Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Human Interest

Seminole Heights diner rekindles connection to the King


George Anderson is a diehard Elvis fan. He once stood in line for 27 hours to see the King in Lakeland. • "It was worth it," he said. "An Elvis concert is like no other." • Anderson was one of the enthusiastic fans who packed Nicko's Fine Foods this past week to see a performance by Billy Lindsey, a Tampa-based Elvis impersonator — or tribute artist, as he is known. • Back in 1956, Elvis ate at Nicko's Fine Foods when it was known as the Ayers Diner. He was on tour in Tampa and sought out the only 24-hour joint in town. The diner never forgot the King's visit. A plaque marks the booth where Elvis sat. • "That's what we're known for," said Karen Liakos, who owns the diner with her husband, Nick. "We have people call just to reserve 'the Elvis Booth.' "

Nicko's is the last prefabricated diner left in Tampa, and the Liakos family has owned it since 1980. Nick's parents, James and Dee Liakos, emigrated from Greece in the 1950s. James died a couple of months ago.

Since James' passing, the family has been researching the look of the original Ayers Diner, which opened in 1951. They've been revamping the restaurant, bringing back chrome accents inside and adding neon lights and a fresh coat of paint outside. They now offer outdoor seating.

Wednesday's event was Karen's idea.

"My vision for Nicko's is to bring it back to life," she said. "And I thought I'd use Elvis to do it."

Lindsey, an Elvis tribute artist for 15 years, was decked out in the classic '70s white jumpsuit with beaded fringe and a matching beaded belt. He wore rings, a cross necklace and iconic Elvis sunglasses.

He danced around the diner as he sang hits like Blue Suede Shoes, Stop, Look and Listen, Suspicious Minds and Never Been to Spain. Every now and then he'd throw in a high kick or gyration and kiss a woman from the audience.

David Townsend, of Carrollwood, isn't necessarily an Elvis fan, but he's a Nicko's regular. He brought his family — wife Cindy, daughter Sherry and grandsons Dylan and Nathan — to the Elvis show.

"We wanted to help make it a success," he said, adding that the food and family atmosphere are what keep him coming back to the diner.

Over in the Elvis Booth, Anderson, of Dunedin, cheered and danced in his seat with Tampa residents and fellow Elvis fans Martha Taylor and Vickie May. They're members of the Elvis: Tampa Bay TCB Fan Club and wore T-shirts with the King's picture on them.

May took a bite of the food on her plate.

"I'm eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich — Elvis' favorite," she said.

May said she eats at the diner about twice a year and always reserves the Elvis Booth.

"I was here when they dedicated it in 2005," she said.

She started the fan club the same year, and it has grown to more than 200 members.

Anderson is the vice president of the club and was an Elvis tribute artist for about 35 years. He said watching tribute performances brings back the memories and the magic of original Elvis concerts.

"I got to see him in concert about five times," Anderson said. "His charisma, the feeling you get from his songs — there's nobody like him."

Although Elvis left the building Wednesday night, he won't be gone for long. Nicko's is having Lindsey back Dec. 18 and then plans to host various Elvis tribute artists every month or every other month.

The diner will also host a car show Dec. 14.

"I'm just trying to bring back the fun," Karen Liakos said.

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