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Mike and Nikki turn to food truck after fire

Kokomo’s by Mike and Nikki purchased this food truck last year, which they took to four-wheeler races and tractor pulls in the area. The couple said they are getting a new food truck this spring, and plan to start serving from it in late March. (Photo submitted)
Kokomo’s by Mike and Nikki purchased this food truck last year, which they took to four-wheeler races and tractor pulls in the area. The couple said they are getting a new food truck this spring, and plan to start serving from it in late March. (Photo submitted)
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FAIRFIELD — Kokomo’s by Mike and Nikki in Fairfield and the hotel that housed the restaurant, Boarders Inn & Suites, have been closed since a fire destroyed the building’s electric box and sent smoke through the building on Dec. 21.

Mike Papazoglou, who owns the restaurant with wife, Nikki, said Tuesday he had still not heard back from insurance adjusters about a timetable for returning to the building and making the necessary repairs to make it operational. He suspects repairs will take three to six months and include rewiring the building.

Not only did the fire knock out electricity to the building, but the smoke from the flames contaminated all the food and packaging in the restaurant.

“There’s extensive smoke damage to the restaurant and hotel,” Mike said. “We had to throw everything away in our inventory, from food to plastic containers to beer bottles.”

Mike and Nikki have a plan to continue to serve food even if their building is not ready for customers.

Last summer, the business purchased a food truck called “Rolling Cravings.” Mike and Nikki took it to a few events beginning in August in places such as Ottumwa and Keosauqua at four-wheeler races and tractor pulls. The food truck sells burgers, tenderloins, gyros and chicken.

Mike said the business has ordered a new trailer that’s a bit bigger than their old one and that it’s being built right now. He expects it to arrive the first week of March, and to reopen for business in late March.

The plan is to set up picnic tables and serve food from the truck in the parking lot of the restaurant, and to operate that way until they can move back inside.

“We’ll be shut down completely until March,” Mike said.

Mike said this is the first fire or even the first insurance claim the business has had in its 20 years. He and Nikki started it in Keosauqua in 2001 after purchasing the restaurant owned by Edith Richardson. The couple moved the restaurant to Fairfield in 2010, setting up shop in the strip mall on South Main Street on the south side of town. They lost their lease in 2015, and moved into their current location inside Boarders Inn & Suites, then known as Fairfield Best Western.

Mike said the move ended up working out well for the business, which was able to draw customers from the guests staying in the restaurant.

“Business is about location, location, location,” Mike said.

The business was booming coming into 2020, but took a hit when the pandemic arrived in March.

“Most of our customers are in their 40s and up, and most of those people were scared to come out,” Mike said. “And as was true for all other businesses, the regulations started getting tougher.”

Mike said this past year, takeout has been about 70 percent of the restaurant’s sales. The restaurant had to cut its staff in half, going from 28-29 employees before COVID to 12-14 now.

“We had a hard time finding people to work,” Mike said. “It’s been tough.”

The management of the hotel could not be reached for this story.