Gruen with her "mobile" nails unit. Submitted photo

Ithaca, N.Y. — A fire ripped through the Blue Stone Bar & Grill in 2012 and destroyed the well-known Commons restaurant.

“Our whole life, our whole world was burned down,” said Nancy Gruen, who owned Blue Stone with her husband.

Things got worse for Gruen before they got better. Shortly after the fire, Gruen was diagnosed with cancer.

“The restaurant burned down, then I got cancer and it was, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do?,’” Gruen said.

But Gruen survived the cancer. Her husband found a job as a chef at a sorority at Cornell. After some deliberation, they decided to stay in Ithaca.

And now, six months after beating the disease, Gruen is again starting her own business.

Nancy’s Nails in Motion is set to open in Ithaca sometime in October. For Gruen, her new operation — which will bring her nail art to the customer — represents a sort of return to her roots.

Gruen with her “mobile” nails unit. Submitted photo

Gruen, 54, said she used to work with nails before moving to Ithaca from California about nine years ago.

“I love to paint, and it was kind of detailed work,” Gruen said. “And you end up getting to know these people really well because they come back to you every two weeks.”

“I would sit there and hold their hand for an hour or so, and we became best friends.”

A mobile nail unit

Gruen said “mobile nails” units are growing increasingly popular but don’t yet exist in Ithaca.

“It’s the latest thing in larger cities,” Gruen said. “They even have some mobile units like a bus … that’s been converted into a spa — you can walk in there and get a spa.”

Gruen doesn’t plan on going with a walk-in spa. At least not right now.

“I’m not quite that extensive yet,” Gruen said, “but if the business moves in that direction I’m definitely open for it.”

Gruen said she’ll offer “silk nails” as well as nail art.

“Things have changed so much since I was doing nails,” Gruen said. “The products themselves have changed.”

She hopes to go to Cornell’s sororities and elsewhere at the customers’ request. She has a portable supply unit that can be easily loaded into a car.

“Everything’s mobile,” she said.

There will be an option for customers to go to a room in her home, too.

‘Serenely lit little eatery’

Located next to Mercato on Ithaca’s Restaurant Row, the Blue Stone Grill once served “contemporary Americana cuisine,” according to a review in

“It was my husband’s dream to own his own restaurant and it was a lot of fun,” Gruen said.

“I treated it like it was my house and I was inviting people in.”

Those who dined there tended to walk away satisfied.

“The Blue Stone is a wonderful excursion into elegant comfort food,” said.

“Each dining experience at the Blue Stone has been satisfying; the food is consistently good. The reason? There is only one chef – the owner Doug Gruen.”

A review by’s Mark Anbinder captured the mood of the place, in the heart of downtown Ithaca.

“This beautifully furnished and serenely lit little eatery has dining inside or on the sidewalk, a gorgeous granite bar, and pieces from local artist Warren Bunn on the walls to set the mood,” Anbinder wrote.

The fire

Around 7 a.m. on Dec. 18, 2012, an electrical panel in the basement of Blue Stone caught fire.

Gruen and her husband got a call. They had been at home. Someone said, “You better get down here,” Gruen recalled.

Fire crews rushed to 110 N. Aurora St. Aurora Street was closed for more than six hours, according to The Ithaca Times.

Lt. Thomas Basher told The Times that “fire crews arrived on scene to find fire in the basement of the building with a smoke condition through the rest of the building and the adjacent structures.”

It took hours for them to put out the blaze. By 5 p.m., fire investigators were still on scene, according to The Times.

Just like starting over

For Gruen, the loss of the Blue Stone grill wasn’t just a setback.

“It was very traumatic,” Gruen said. “My whole life turned upside down.”

Gruen and her husband considered rebuilding but ultimately decided against it.

“The insurance did cover it but everything was lost,” Gruen said.

They sold the restaurant to the adjacent Mercato Bar & Kitchen.

Gruen said she had no choice but to move forward.

“So at this point I’m at the point of my life: ‘Okay, I have to get a new career,’” she said. “I had to start over.”

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.