For Shannea Akins, manager of Nikki’s Place, the pandemic has been a test of patience. Akins and her team continue to put the heart in soul food as they greet curbside and regular takeout customers, chatting and laughing while patrons filter in and out.
“It was slow at the very beginning,” Akins said. “We just had to make necessary changes as fast as we could and as well as we could expect because we’re a small restaurant.”
As a Black business owner, Akins said she saw an influx of new customers during Black History Month in February and, more recently, following the reawakening of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“That kept us afloat during that time period,” she said. “We were just in awe of all the wonderful people. We want to have new people come in. A lot of new people know about Nikki’s Place. We’re happy to have them.”
While Akins said customers stop in from all over the country to enjoy the comforting flavors of Nikki’s Place before leaving Orlando, the restaurant doesn’t plan on opening for dine-in services until it can guarantee the safety of its workers and customers.
“It can get pretty crowded in here very fast. So, we don’t want to have that issue for guests. I want them to feel like you can still be comfortable and come in. We’re a small place, so we need to have those precautions in place,” Akins said.
These precautions include requiring a mask to enter the building, regularly cleaning common spaces and providing access to hand-washing stations. Akins also encourages her workers to stay home if they are feeling sick.
Aside from takeout services, Nikki’s Place runs an online store where customers can support the business by purchasing Tshirts, gift cards with no expiration dates and, soon, signature seasonings.
Akins said running a business during a pandemic has taught her many lessons. She practiced patience in waiting to receive grants like the Orange CARES coronavirus relief fund and perseverance in facing financial crisis.
“ We learned that we definitely have created a lovely, loyal system for our customers,” Akins said. “We’re still here. They said they didn’t want us to close. We stayed open for them.”
For more information on Nikki’s Place and its menu, merchandise and altered hours, visit nikkisplace.net, or stop in for some soul food at Nikki’s Place at 742 Carter St.