Nick Pavoni, the old-school roadhouse proprietor who flipped a mountain of burgers and made legions of friends through the 34 years he ran the former Skip’s Bar and Grill in downtown Graton, has died.
Pavoni was delivering a sofa to a charitable thrift store on Wednesday when he collapsed from an apparent heart attack. The Sonoma County native, graduate of Sebastopol’s Analy High School and longtime resident of Graton was 80.
Among his most avid admirers were a couple of generations of west county sheriff’s deputies who could rely on him to discourage would-be troublemakers and, when trouble happened, to watch the deputies’ backs.
“If the deputies got a call that there was a problem in Skip’s, we knew that it was bad,” said retired Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Brown. “Real bad, because he usually handled the problem himself.
“Many of us have personal stories of Nick leaving his bar full of customers to come outside and help the deputies with fights in the street.”
One of Pavoni’s nine children, Angie Sulme of Santa Rosa, said he aspired as a young man to become a CHP officer. But he didn’t attain the CHP’s then-required height minimum.
“He was 5-7, on a good day,” said Sulme, who began working alongside her dad at Skip’s when she was 11 years old. “He was a short, stocky Italian.”
Sulme added that though her father didn’t make it into the public safety profession, all his life he was a staunch supporter of law enforcement and the fire service.
Pavoni was born in Santa Rosa June 1, 1938. His parents divorced and from age 5 he spent most of each year with his maternal grandparents in Graton, and the summers with his father in Healdsburg.
Always enterprising, young Pavoni raised chickens for sale and worked as a laborer in construction and for Sturgeon Tree Service.
“When he was barely 21, he bought Skip’s Bar,” daughter Sulme said. She said an uncle and aunt of her father’s helped him with financing.
Skip’s was even then, in 1959, a west county drink-and-chow institution. Skip Henderson had opened it in 1939.
Through most of the years that Pavoni was behind the bar, the heart of Graton was not the refined and orderly place it is now.
Recalled Brown, the retired career sheriff’s officer, “There were three bars on the one-block-long main street of Graton in the early days and up until around 1990. There was lots of drinking and the other two bars didn’t keep as good a lid on things as Nick did.
“If he saw that trouble was brewing or that someone was acting up, in his bar or on the streets of Graton, he took personal responsibility for putting a stop to it.
“If it hadn’t progressed too far he would admonish them. If it got physical, Nick was well equipped to use physical force quite effectively to end the problem.
“He was fearless. And he was tough. If Nick hit someone with his fists, they went down for the count.”
Deputies so deeply appreciated Pavoni they presented him a plaque of gratitude that bore an actual Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office badge.