Nipote’s brings the flavors of Italy to the lakeshore

The Church family
The Church family
Photos: Nipote’s

By Kate O’Neil

Husband and wife team Shawn and Jeff Church knew for years that together, they wanted to have their own restaurant. 

“We would wander the streets and run through downtown looking at every building imagining what it could be,” said Shawn Church, co-owner of Nipote’s Italian Kitchen in downtown Muskegon.

The Churches — both born and raised in Muskegon — finally found a property, an old auto parts store. A little over a year later, they opened the doors of their new restaurant, Nipote’s Italian Kitchen, in 2019.

Shawn and Jeff pride themselves in staying grounded in tradition. From their sauces made in-house to hand-rolling meatballs, Nipote’s everyday cooking is rooted in the Church’s travels in Northern Italy.  

Jeff Church
Jeff Church
(taken pre-COVID-19)

Italian friends Carlo and Sofia took Shawn and Jeff to their hometown of Udine while the Muskegon couple was traveling in Northern Italy. It was there that Shawn and Jeff really fell in love with the culinary scene of the region and peninsula. 

“We kept saying that we wanted to find a way to bring that home — this culture of enjoying a meal with simple, fresh, local ingredients prepared with love and served around the table with friends,” Church said.

The origin of the name “Nipote’s” was inspired by the Church’s adventures in Italy.

“People always ask what Nipote means — it’s Italian for ‘nephew,’” Church said. “When we went to Italy, Jeff asked Carlo how he would introduce him to their Italian friends. Carlo said, ‘you are too young to be my brother and too old to be my son, so I will call you nipote, my nephew.’

“It caught on while we were there and after a few days — and bottles of wine — we’d hear ‘ciao nipote’ everywhere that we went.”

“Fun” is an understatement when it comes to Nipote’s space and design; the restaurant is made of large shipping containers — a remarkable, yet clean look that makes Nipote’s stand out.  

Chicken Parmesan
Chicken Parmesan

“We wanted to send a message about upcycling, and you’ll see that throughout the space in our decorations, like repurposed buckets or in our products, our takeaway containers — including some pretty cool wine takeout glasses and boxes made from recycled bottles — or in our practices like collecting and recycling cork,” Church said. 

These practices extend to the menu, which features many local ingredients and products. “Mittens & Boots” is the philosophy at Nipote’s, keeping things sourced from Michigan or Italy.

“The menu is set up much like you would find in Italy where you would order an antipasti, an insalata, a primi and a secondi, followed by dessert of course, with classic cocktails, Italian wines, sparkling water and Lavazza coffee with lots of options and flexibility,” Church said. 

The most popular item on the menu is the mushroom ravioli — done with an herby goat cheese cream sauce. The sausage & peppers panini is a favorite for many of Muskegon’s downtown brewers, made with hot Italian sausage, sweet peppers, aged provolone and covered in the house red sauce. 

Mushroom ravioli with steak
Mushroom ravioli with steak

At the end of the day, Church says the most rewarding part of owning Nipote’s is feeding people. 

“We love being a part of the growth in downtown Muskegon and a part of the community,” Church said. “We grew up here, we are raising a family here and we love Muskegon.”

Nipote’s Italian Kitchen
98 W. Clay Ave., Muskegon