Downtown sushi fixture revamped, reopened and ready for the next 12 years

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The newly renovated downtown Nikki's location includes a sprawling sushi bar and new menu items. Photos by Hilary Snow.
The newly renovated downtown Nikki’s location includes a sprawling sushi bar and new menu items. Photos by Hilary Snow.

A longtime popular downtown eatery has a brand new look.

The recently renovated and redesigned Nikki’s Fresh Gourmet and Sushi, 16 S. Front St., was officially unveiled during a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday.

“I’m glad to see Nikki’s back open,” Wilmington mayor Bill Saffo said. “This is one of my favorite places to eat.”

Saffo’s sentiments are certainly well shared. For more than a decade, Nikki’s has remained a sought-after fixture of the Front Street landscape.

But general manager Jimmy Valimont said it was in need of an overhaul.

“We’ve been here for a good 11, 12 years, so it was much-needed,” Valimont said. “And this brings us more in line with the other stores.”

Nikki’s, which started downtown, now has locations at Independence Mall, Racine Drive, Mayfaire and in Carolina Beach.

As part of the renovations, which got underway right after Labor Day. Nikki’s used some of its kitchen space and a portion of a long hallway that led to the restrooms to create more room in the dining area.

From left, Nikki's employees and general manager Jimmy Valimont celebrate a ribbon cutting ceremony with mayor Bill Saffo and Ed Wolverton of Wilmington Downtown Inc.
From left, Nikki’s employees and general manager Jimmy Valimont celebrate a ribbon cutting ceremony with Mayor Bill Saffo and Ed Wolverton of Wilmington Downtown Inc.

Vinyl booths that once lined the left hand side have all been replaced with handmade wooden ones. The bar tables that rested along the restaurant’s storefront–and faced out to the street–have been replaced with matching tables.

The biggest change for the restaurant is a sprawling sushi bar, a welcoming centerpiece that seats about ten.

“We desperately needed that,” Valimont said, noting the cramped space with which chefs previously had to work.

Although Valimont said the occupancy is approximately the same as before, the restaurant feels larger, more open, with bright walls, sparse decorations and a vaulted ceiling holding elaborate chandeliers.

Nikki’s held a soft reopening in early November. During its closure, Valimont said passers-by would often eagerly peer in the window with a thumbs up or a cheer.

“People were excited that we’re back open,” he said.

The menu has gotten a bit of an overhaul, too. While all of the American, vegan and vegetarian gourmet options remain, the sushi selections have been streamlined and revamped. There are still more than 200 rolls to choose from, but there are now original–and never before seen–rolls on weekly special, paired with a salad or soup for around $12.95.

And Valimont said there are lots of new accompanying sauces, including a honey wasabi and a mango salsa. Nikki’s also now serves liquor in addition to beer, wine and sake offerings.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.