Trattner had taken charge of the restaurant's finances as well as its look and feel. With 17 years on the L.A. restaurant scene, May, quite simply, was the chef.
May is no stranger to opening new restaurants; she also runs Banquette, a small cafe near 4th and Main, and is married to Ricki Kline, a partner with restaurateur Cedd Moses in a series of downtown watering holes. But this was Trattner's first attempt. The women, both in their 40s, met after Trattner, who used to work in cinematic visual effects, moved downtown after the end of a relationship and started frequenting Banquette. They share an affinity for many things, including shoes, off-beat humor and coarse language. And both say they have a special fondness for the close-knit nature of their neighborhood.
The mindless work of painting upholstery studs took Trattner's mind off money issues: All of the money that had come in -- about $50,000 -- had gone out the door, to plumbers, electricians, contractors and rent. That day, the Nickel's bank account held $15.
Trattner said that they were expecting more money from investors, but bills were piling up. "I don't want to have to bust into my 401(k)," she said. "But I don't know what to do."
Then Ken Aslan, the building's landlord, pushed open the restaurant's oak doors with another tenant, Michael Rizzo, in tow.
Rizzo, a talent manager, had just rented the space next door, and Aslan wanted to show off the possibilities of the neighborhood. But quickly, the conversation changed to its drawbacks.
The night before, a downtown resident had been knocked to the ground and kicked repeatedly after he tried to stop two men who were setting off car alarms along Main. Police intervened, and the men were arrested.
By mid-morning, word of the beating had spread, and both Trattner and Aslan were worried.
Should they post a security guard at the door of the restaurant? Trattner wondered aloud. Install security cameras outside the building, as the Los Angeles Police Department would later suggest?
Aslan proposed leaving lights outside the restaurant on all night.
"It's going to be interesting to see if we can get along in this neighborhood," Trattner said.
Eventually, May and Trattner decided against the cameras and the guard. And they said they tried to make a place in the restaurant for the longtime residents, keeping prices low and making much of the menu a la carte.
"God forbid you bring in something nice to the neighborhood," May said. "Or you are accused of gentrifying it."
The women also used the menu to poke fun at the neighborhood's reputation. Specialties include a "5¢ bag" (doughnuts and coffee) and "Smac and cheese." A list of pastries on the menu is divided into a.m. and p.m. "fixes."
May and Trattner said in a series of interviews that they were keenly aware of outsiders' perceptions about downtown. That was one reason, they said, that they looked to downtowners for financial support.
"We can't get people to come from other parts of the city to see the site," Trattner said in March, as construction was underway.
May finished her thought: "But the people who live here get it," she said. "It's investing in your neighborhood."
As the months went on, that neighborhood would provide a series of gifts, which buoyed the women's spirits and pushed the project forward.