Howard Nielsen has what he calls “a building habit.”
The owner of Sticky Lips Pit BBQ has been in the midst of one construction project or another for much of the decade. His current effort, an expansion of the original restaurant, should be completed in the spring. Then he plans to start in on his next project: A minimall to house 12 small storefronts adjacent to Sticky Lips on Culver Road.
“I don’t think I’ve sat down and figured out how much I have put into this,” he said of his envisioned entertainment district extending from the corner of Culver and Atlantic Avenue down to Humboldt Street. “I don’t really have a choice right now.”
Expenses will easily top $1 million when he is all done. The parking lot was more than $150,000. The comedy club and expansion both exceeded $300,000. The mall is priced between $400,000 and $600,000.
Nielsen wants to restore this southern-most section of the building with three interior hallways and a dozen 750-square-foot shops. That would be on the smaller side of Park Avenue shops, he said, for comparison. He describes the vision as “very first class.” Windows and doors should be installed any week now.
“It’s not going to be a flea market of any sort,” he said, expecting to bring in upstart retailers or those with locations outside the area wanting to test the local market. “I don’t want to bring in, really, any other restaurant … but, you know, we would like to bring in retail, maybe dessert, coffee, ice cream, more the specialty kind of shops.”
Lost Borough owner Dan Western just marked two years on Wednesday. They chose the location because of the space, an old industrial building, and the availability of an adjacent parking lot. The “up and coming neighborhood, young neighborhood,” is attractive. Three Heads Brewing opening down the street didn’t hurt, he said.
“The whole expansion, the idea behind it all is great,” Western said, adding: “It’s great to see a local business guy really putting it in on the line, saying, ‘Hey, this is my piece of the world.’ … We’re going for it, and so is he.”
Sticky Lips Pit BBQ opened in 2004, and Nielsen added the Sticky Lips BBQ Juke Joint in 2011, on Jefferson Road in Henrietta. He bought the Culver Road property when it was for sale the next year.
The current expansion began this past summer. It adds a back entrance, increases seating capacity by about 50, from a current 110 (not counting the outside patio), and has space for a full bar, live entertainment and a party room with balconies overlooking the stage and seating for another 80, he said.
“This is a real gamble right now. A lot of us (restaurateurs), our sales are struggling to keep our numbers where they used to be,” Nielsen said, noting the uptick in restaurants not just in the immediate area but across Monroe County.
Sticky Lips has an extensive menu verging on overwhelming. In terms of the nontraditional fare, I enjoy the catfish strips and the nachos. In terms of barbecue, its brisket is assertively smoky, sliced thick and trimmed of fat. I also enjoy the tender pulled pork, which is torn into good-sized rustic chunks. Standout sides are the collard greens (maybe my favorite thing on the menu), mayo-based coleslaw and cornbread.
Both the original and Juke Joint have fun, retro vibes with a huge assortment of memorabilia to take in.
“The restaurant is really a city success story in that I had been in business with Chester Cab Pizza for 21 years already before I attempted Sticky Lips BBQ,” said Howard Nielsen, owner. “I knew the area well and felt comfortable in pushing two blocks outside the already successful neighborhood of the arts. I was the first restaurant to push that boundary, and I remember people telling me I was nuts.”
The restaurant opened April 21, 2004. Twelve years later, he purchased the two-acre corner lot and building, which is currently undergoing extensive renovations and will be rebranded as Photo City Junction.
“I just spent my life savings, please eat my food,” Nielsen said. “It’s in the DNA of an entrepreneur to have the confidence and hopefully the know-how to make your investment and idea into a business that can do some good for the world. When I had the idea of starting a barbecue business and was looking for space to rent, I had no idea all the good this location would offer.”
One of the things Nielsen is most proud of is being able to provide jobs for 180 full- and part-time employees.
“I like working with young people and I have a very diverse group of employees,” Nielson said. “I have a great relationship with the Bowman and Leighton Avenue neighborhood, next to where the restaurant is located. I try to be a good example of a leader and business owner.”
Over the last twelve years, Sticky Lips BBQ has perfected the art of smoking meats. The restaurant offers an extensive menu of items all made from scratch.
“We have the best staff, procedures and menu that Sticky Lips BBQ has ever had. With the addition of executive chef, Earl Young, we have made great strides in our kitchen,” Nielsen said. “The original smokehouse at Culver Road has just undergone an extensive makeover that will help streamline high volume production that comes with the increase in barbecue fundraisers, catering and restaurant business.”
“We’re making the best and freshest barbecue in our 12-year history,” he said.
Audrey and Nick Rozanov interact with guests during their wedding ceremony with Fred Armstrong. The couple embraced the quirky by asking guests to wear something they have worn from previous weddings such as old bridesmaid gowns, and handed out kazoos. (Photo: JAMIE GERMANO/@jgermano1/Staff photographer)
It’s wedding season, and this is the story of one of them.
On Friday night, Nick Rozanov and Audrey Schmidt married in an occasion that was quirky, exuberant and oftentimes silly. It was pure joy, its genesis stemming from grief, because the paths that brought them to each other began when they both lost their first spouses to colon cancer.
Let’s back up this story to before their paths converged.
Nick and Ida
They met while Nick was working at WCMF-FM (96.5) and Ida was working at WHAM-AM (1180). They married in 1991. A few years later came sons Alexander and Victor, and their lives were filled with their many activities.
Nick and Ida were nearly constant companions. When his career took Nick to Russia for three weeks, he returned saying, “I’m never leaving you for that long again.”
The sociable couple was known for throwing imaginative theme parties — Halloween parties, an Australian party, a construction party when the road outside their house was under construction and “my big fat Greek party” when the Olympics were in Greece.
Ida, who was always active and fit, began growing uncharacteristically tired. She was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2009. She died Aug. 14, 2010, 17 months after her diagnosis. She was 51.
With that, Nick was thrown into the life of being a single dad to two teenage sons. Day-to-day life took on a pattern: Go to work. Go to the boys’ activities. Laundry late at night. Cry sometimes. Go to bed.
Propelled through his grief by an innate energy and exuberance, he took his sons on frequent skiing outings to Bristol Mountain. In 2011, the guys headed out West on a whirlwind eight-state, 4,000-mile road trip that included the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons and more. He became involved in Rochester’s music scene, playing keyboards for the indie band 49 Days and going to see friends’ gigs.
A year after Ida’s passing, he told his sons he was going to start dating. Ida had already prepared her sons for this moment, Nick recounted through tears. She had instructed her sons to make sure that he did.
For the next four years, he met a lot of women with varied backgrounds through Match.com. Most were divorcées, and some were uncomfortable with the pictures of Ida around the house.
“It was …” Nick struggled to come up with the right word, “…weird.”
Audrey and Ernie
Audrey Jones met Ernie Schmidt at work, where they both were dental lab technicians. They married in 1995; he had two grown daughters from his previous marriage.
After marrying, they built a business together: Artizahn Dental Studio in Canandaigua.
Ernie was diagnosed with colon cancer when he was 50. He responded well to treatment, so they took advantage of the times that he felt well to cross items off his bucket list.
“Anything Ernie wants, Ernie gets,” was Audrey’s philosophy.
They traveled to Germany and drove 165 miles per hour on the Autobahn. They bought a Porsche convertible and learned how to drive it properly on a race track in Alabama.
He bought a drone and flew it around their dental lab.
While surfing the internet, Ernie spotted used Segways for sale. They bought two. Ernie was able to enjoy them twice.
In 2013, they sold their house, which sat on a large amount of acreage, knowing that it would be difficult for Audrey to maintain on her own, and moved into an apartment. Ernie lived in the apartment for 2 1/2 months before he died Feb. 3, 2014, three years after his diagnosis.
His death, together with her low-maintenance apartment lifestyle, left Audrey with newfound free time.
“I didn’t have anything to do,” she said.
Nick and Audrey
The profiles that they created on Match.com reflected that they both were, as Nick put it, “some distance from the mainstream.”
His profile name, Winekegger, came from his enjoyment of home brewing and wine making.
Humor is a driving force in my life… It’s calisthenics for the mind and can sharpen intellect and even dull pain. If not used wisely, humor can also make you snort drinks out your nose. So even if I am somewhat cultured and hold good manners in high regard, I still think a belch — when delivered correctly under the right circumstances — can be hilarious. The meek may want to consider this a cautionary flag.
Her profile name, Spockgirl1, came from her interest in science fiction.
I was a “punk rocker” in high school. Kind of a “wild child”. I have managed to reign in that part of me so I can actually make my way in the business world. But, it likes to come out now and again. In more subtle ways, of course! Life is too short to be unhappy or dwell on what “could’ve been.”
The person she was looking for:
Class with a touch of crazy. Someone who gets my sense of humor and can give it right back. I need a guy that is not intimidated by a strong, driven, focused, opinionated woman.
He spotted her profile, and reached out to her through a message.
The way Audrey tells the story, it took a little while for their spark to get started. When she checked out his profile, she spotted a few roadblocks.
He had cats. She was allergic to cats and had a dog.
He wanted someone that lived near Penfield; she lived about 45 minutes away (she had indicated a different town for personal safety reasons).
He was a musician. She had dated musicians in high school and found them to be full of themselves.
She dragged her heels for a few weeks.
“I was sitting at home listening to the clock tick and I’m like ‘OK, it won’t hurt to just go and meet the guy,’” she said, and contacted him.
Their first date was in May 2014 at Lucca Pizza in Victor. She quickly broke the news that she lived in Canandaigua.
“So you’re starting with a lie,” he joked. But the conversation was comfortable. He freely talked about Ida, she about Ernie, and the feeling of acceptance was welcome.
As the pizza place staff put up chairs and swept the floors around them, they headed across the street to Bistro 11 for dessert. They closed that spot as well.
Two days later, she and a posse of six friends headed to Boulder Coffee, where his band was playing.
“He was surprised that I was there,” she said. “He thought it was funny that I brought everybody to check him out.”
After the set, her friends headed home, while Nick and Audrey continued on to see the band Jumbo Shrimp play at another venue. It was the night of their first kiss, to the band playing “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams.
From then on, they saw each other frequently.
In July, they rode the Segways that Ernie had purchased to the Fourth of July festivities in Penfield’s Harris Whalen Park.
“I professed my love to her on the blanket under the fireworks,” Nick said. “It was really quick, but at our age, we don’t have time to pussyfoot around.”
As they got to know each other, they were surprised by how often their lives had crisscrossed in the past.
They realized they first met each other 27 years ago. While working as chief engineer at WCMF, Nick would occasionally ride along with DJ Mark Cronin to deliver Chester Cab Pizza to the Dave Kane’s Lunch Block winner of the day. Nick remembers few of those visits, but he does remember driving on a sunny late spring day to a dental lab on North Union Street, where the winner was Audrey Jones. They both remember the day, but not each other.
They realized that both Nick and Ernie had been involved in the same home brewing organization; they didn’t know each other but it’s likely they had a pint together at a club event at some point.
And Ida and Audrey both trained at the front desk at the Jefferson Avenue main post office at the same time.
But despite their crisscrossing paths, they agree that they wouldn’t have found each other without the help of the internet.
About a year and a half after that first date, Nick held his annual Christmas party, and Nick and Audrey were suitably dressed for the occasion in matching tacky T-shirts.
Gathered were Audrey’s stepdaughters, Audrey’s parents, Ida’s mother, Nick’s sons, friends and neighbors. On bent knee, he proposed. Through tears, she accepted.
With their wedding, Nick and Audrey rekindled the theme parties that Nick had enjoyed throwing in the past. They held a wedding-themed party, with creative twists on wedding traditions.
It was held at the Photo City Improv and Comedy Club, behind Sticky Lips Pit BBQ, a fitting venue for a couple who liked to laugh.
Guests were encouraged to get creative with their wedding-themed attire, perhaps wearing something that they had worn to a past wedding. The guests entered at the bar, grabbed a drink, and then settled in at the comedy club tables.
The bride and groom entered and exited to the blaring of kazoos. The ceremony was performed on the comedy club stage by the larger-than-life Fred Armstrong, owner of Animatus Studio, best known locally for his clay action animation for House of Guitars commercials.
Even the ceremony had a theme: “it was inevitable.” It became a recurring chorus that the guests would say boisterously as Armstrong listed the couple’s many coincidences and quirks.
While lighthearted, the ceremony had its poignant moments — a moment of silence to remember their first loves, Ida and Ernie, and their vows, when they pledged their lives, their hearts and their futures to each other, through sickness and health, until their last breath.
Dinner was barbecue from Sticky Lips, so the couple donned bride and groom aprons to protect their wedding attire.
Instead of a tiered wedding cake, a sheet cake was covered by an edible picture of an elaborate wedding cake. Next to the cake were framed photos from their first weddings, along the words, “Celebrating what was and what can be … Ida and Ernie, always in our hearts.”
During their first dance, they held on tight to each other, both knowing how fleeting this all can be. The song was “Lucky” by Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat, and they sang along as they swayed.
“I’m lucky I’m in love with my best friend, lucky to have been where I have been, lucky to be coming home again…”
The two-man band Jumbo Shrimp provided the music for the remainder of the night. The musicians fully embraced the theme, one in a tuxedo T-shirt, the other in a powder blue leisure suit. The music kicked off to “Happy,” the song of the Nick and Audrey’s first kiss. The celebration continued from the Photo City Improv to the East End and lasted well into the wee hours.
“This is a totally new thing that is just as good — magical. Wow! Twice!”
— Nick Rozanov
“I don’t think I would have settled for anything less.”
— Audrey Rozanov
The Atlantic Ballroom is now available!
Sticky Lips BBQ is joining forces with our new neighbor, Photo City Improv, to provide a beautiful venue for your next event!
Sticky Lips Pit BBQ, 625 Culver Road, Rochester, NY and 830 Jefferson Road, Henrietta, NY
What makes it special
Walk in the door of Sticky Lips Pit BBQ in Rochester and the sensuous, smoky smell of freshly-made barbecue hits you immediately. The restaurant’s expansive menu has something for everyone, even satisfying barbecue’s natural enemy: the vegetarian.
Their hallmark is the Atomic Bomb Challenge that was featured on the television show Man vs. Food.
The Atomic Bomb includes, an over sized bun, a pound each of hamburger, pulled pork, french fries, half pound of hot meat sauce, quarter pound of cheese, and four dress sets of lettuce, tomato and onion. Finish it in a half hour and win a shirt!
3 things the locals know
1. On street parking at the Rochester location is free
2. House magician Mike Dedee headlines on weekends
3. Make sure to get your WWII history lesson from memorabilia hanging on the walls