In the Kitchen

The Royal Treatment

How Charlestown restaurant The Nordic became one of the most bountiful buffets in the country

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Most of us have never heard the phrase all- you-can-eat lobster. If we ever see unlimited oysters glistening in a bed of ice, it because we’re at an upscale wedding. Alaskan crab is something we’ve read about but never tried. Yet at The Nordic, you can eat as much of these items as you want. You can gorge yourself in the dining room, surrounded by hunting trophies and Viking paraphernalia, or you can nurse a cocktail in an Adirondack chair and watch the alpacas graze in a nearby meadow. Tucked deep into rural Charlestown, The Nordic is already far from any gas station or major road, and it feels like a completely different world.

“There’s a lot of wow factor,” says Steve Persson, co-owner of the family establishment. “When people pull in, as soon as they crest the last hilltop, they’re seeing ponds with fountains, they’re seeing fires, grills, stone monuments, oversized flowers, crazy animals out in the paddock – there’s a lot of stuff going on here. It’s more of an event.”

Yet, the Persson family didn’t plan to create such an opulent buffet. Years ago, Dick and Gudny Persson were living in Brooklyn, New York, when they discovered a woodsy parcel in Rhode Island. Both Perssons had spent formative years in Scandinavia, and they yearned to open a summer camp in a sylvan setting. The business struggled, transforming into a small restaurant, then a kind of tavern.

In 1980, a nearby buffet called Custy’s burned down. The Perssons adopted that business model, with some early help from former Custy’s staff. They built an expensive addition, gambling heavily on the new concept. Scandinavian influence is everywhere, including model drakkars and a carved wooden Norsemen out front, but they replaced an authentic smorgasbord with Ocean State favorites, and it caught on.

“The buffet was the first thing that ever showed any promise at all,” recalls Steve, one of Dick and Gudny’s three children. “We paved the roads. We built addition after addition. It started with lower-end food at a cheaper price. But it didn’t take us long to come to the idea that high quality at a higher price was in demand. And we stuck with it, and now, 40 years later, here we are.”

Today, Steve operates the restaurant with his two sisters, Nancy Persson and Lisa Brown, along with eight of their ten grandchildren. To stock so many stations of littlenecks and fillet mignon, the Perssons rely heavily on a far-reaching network of loyal suppliers, along with local growers and fishermen. The 90-person staff is thoroughly trained in hospitality; some workers have been here 30-plus years, but Steve takes particular pride in grooming young servers. “Adults these days are not used to seeing young people with a legitimate, bright smile,” he says. “But we have that here.”

After four decades, Steve’s generation is starting to prepare for succession. None of the Persson children were forced to stay, but most of the grandchildren have become involved in the Nordic’s operation.

“They’re big shoes to fill,” says Pelle Persson, one of the grandsons. “Growing up here, it’s a little different. We’ve been surrounded by it since we were little kids. It’s definitely a lifestyle.”

The Nordic
178 E Pasquiset Trail, Charlestown • 783-4515