Orlando to vote on funding for iconic soul food restaurant

City of Orlando Commissioners will vote in November on whether or not to give iconic soul food restaurant Nikki's Place a $25,000 grant to help them rebuild. Nikki's Place has been closed since a fire raged in the Parramore restaurant in March. Owner Elaine Aiken described that moment.

"Next thing you know, it was just a lot of smoke. We thought it was just smoking cigarettes, but there was a lot of smoke, so we had to leave, and we've been heartbroken ever since."  Elaine Aiken says the task now is to rebuild Nikki's Place.  "Very, very difficult. We have insurance but the one thing we thought we had that we did not have was loss of income."

A GoFundMe account has kept Elaine and her husband, Co-Owner and Head Chef Nick Aiken Jr., afloat while construction crews work on the restaurant, but now taxpayers may be stepping in as well. Chef Nick wants to get a $25,000 grant from the city to purchase new equipment that includes a second deep fryer.

"I'm going to get me a nice wolf stove, a double over, grill, and six burners. We are going to look for a convection oven, so I can cook faster and more."

Since the fire started upstairs, the kitchen equipment they have could still work, but barely and is constantly in need of repair. We asked both owners what taxpayers can expect if Nikki's Place is able to reopen with better cooking equipment?

"They sit out and enjoy their food, and then they say where's a pillow. Take a nap," said Elaine.  "We cook this nice smothered rib tips, not too much gravy, but its nice and tender," explained Nick.

The City of Orlando's Downtown Development Board has already voted in favor of the grant. It is called a MEBA Grant: Minority Business Assistance Grant, and when it does reach Orlando City Council for final approval, the Aikens can also count on the support of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

"MEBA grants are available in Parramore to businesses. Nikki's caught fire I guess about six months ago, and they are in the process of rebuilding. It's an iconic African American owned business that yes I will support giving them a MEBA grant."

The iconic restaurant has been in that building in Parramore since the 1960's and the Aiken's have owned and operated Nikki's Place for the last 16 years. The family tells me they hope to reopen the doors no later than January 1, 2016.