The real estate firm buying the land that has held Nikki's Drive-Inn is seeking a tenant for the restaurant space, appearing to end an era at the site where the eatery has operated for decades.
"We're trying to find a good tenant that wants to do another restaurant," said Cardon Smith, a vice president for the Fletcher Bright Co., on Friday.
Smith said he couldn't speak for the future plans of longtime Nikki's owner James E. Jones, who in March closed the Chattanooga restaurant amid the outbreak of the coronavirus.
"I don't know if he'll reopen somewhere else or shut down," he said.
No one answered the restaurant's phone number on Friday and Jones could not be reached for comment.
Jones is selling the property at Cherokee Boulevard and West Bell Avenue, located just before the Stringer's Ridge Tunnel, to Fletcher Bright Co. Smith said the deal is expected to close in the next couple of weeks.
"We're currently looking for a tenant," Smith said. "He [Jones] could open at another location. As of right now, we're looking for somebody to lease it from us."
Nikki's is an 80-year-old restaurant icon in the Chattanooga area known for its jumbo fried shrimp and onion rings.
Jones said in an interview last year with online channel ChattWithUs that the eatery was passed down from his parents, Charlie and June Jones.
"The customers made Nikki's," he said. "It's a favorite place for them to come."
He said then that there are some employees of the restaurant who've put in more than 30 years at the eatery.
June Jones said in a Chattanooga Times interview in 1991 that business was almost entirely comprised of regular customers who were used to the food, the prices and the staff.
"We have more of a personal touch, where we have closer contact to a customer," she said. "I believe people appreciate that."
Smith said on Friday that the site is "a proven location," and a sign the company has put up calls it a "turnkey restaurant."
"We've had a lot calls on it," he said.
Last year, Fletcher Bright Co. unveiled plans for a four-story, 52-unit condominium complex on the tract.
But last month, the development group changed its plans and instead is looking at putting a smaller, 10-unit townhouse project on a parcel on Cherokee Boulevard next to the Nikki's site.
Smith said the company analyzed the market and cited the magnitude of the site work on the Nikki's location as reasons to hold off on the condo project.
On the smaller tract, each of the townhomes would be three stories with two-car parking on a bottom level, Smith said. The units with three bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths would sell in the mid-$500,000 range, he said.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.