It’s lunchtime at the Madison Avenue-Cleveland Street exchange, and the enticing aroma of chicken frying and spices blending fills the air. As the name suggests, Riko’s Kickin Chicken
is anything but tame.
“You get a little of our chicken and taste it, you will be kicked,” said Lapecus Gross, a long time friend and colleague of Riko's co-owners, Mariko and Tiffany Wiley.
In the kitchen, Mariko Wiley and cook Reggie Owens move with seemingly impossible speed to fill a growing list of orders. Customer favorites include the hot wings and whole chicken, broccoli and cheese, shrimpburger, fried fish, and kickin fries loaded with peppers, bacon, cheese, and ranch sauce.
The shrimpburger is a beef burger piled high with seasoned shrimp. It's a Riko's Kickin Chicken specialty and customer favorite. (Submitted)
At the counter, Tiffany Wiley moves just as fast as she manages the phone and line of customers. She greets every guest with a smile and hugs her regulars.
“Our customers feel like family,” said Tiffany Wiley. “They come in and meet us and the next thing you know, we’re hugging. We keep up with each others’ kids and graduations, you know. You’re not just a customer here, you’re not just a number. You’re family.”
Located at 1329 Madison Avenue, the business is an all-around family affair.
The Wileys opened the store in March 2017 and spend five to six days a week serving their customers. Technically they only have four employees, but their daughter, Mariko’s sister, and Tiffany’s mother all help out, as do a number of long-time friends including Gross.
Riko’s also has an army of dedicated customers singing its praises.
Jerin Towns eats at Riko’s two to three times a week. She said the customer service and atmosphere keep her coming back but the main draw is the food. Her favorites are the broccoli and cheese, fried shrimp, and tacos.
“Come try it. Once you try it, you’re going to come back,” she said. “There’s no one I’ve ever invited that hasn’t been back.”
Felecia Rucker agrees. She tried Riko’s for the first time recently and was so impressed that she returned with her daughters.
“The food is so great. My first time I had a wonderful experience, and I just had to bring my girls because we just love chicken,” she said. “This is our new spot.”
Customer Chimere Miller plays with her son, J'Iris, after enjoying lunch at Riko's Kickin Chicken. (Cole Bradley)
Mariko Wiley got his start washing dishes at D’Bo’s Wings-N-Things. He spent ten years with the business as a cook and caterer and built a fan base dedicated to his style and consistency.
“At that point, he decided to step out on faith and do his own thing,” said Wiley.
They started with a food truck
in 2013 and continued to build a following. Four years later, while working an event for Youth Villages, they met the owner of the building on Madison. He was impressed by their food and offered them the space.
“We came by and checked it out,” said Wiley. “It wasn’t the prettiest location, but we saw the potential. And of course, we were in the Medical District so it was a no-brainer to go from there.”
The Medical District, she said, provides a density of patients and medical professionals hungry for local food options.
Riko’s is located in Madison Heights, a neighborhood within the larger Medical District centered on the Madison-Cleveland intersection. Wiley said the location offers exposure to commuters, walkability for pedestrians, and a community of other small businesses.
Riko's Kickin Chicken goes through 25 to 30 cases of chicken daily and prides itself on its commitment to bold flavors. (Submitted)
“We were already working a food truck in the Medical District, and we knew the love they had for our food and the uniqueness of it,” she said.
Riko's, she said, is dedicated to bold, complex flavors and offerings most wing spots just don’t have. Dipped catfish is a standout hit. The flaky fish is deep fried then dipped in any wing flavor from honey garlic to Jamaican jerk.
“Of course we’re a wing joint, but we’re different. We bring in stuff that you have to come to Riko’s to get,” said Wiley.
That’s not to discount the chicken. They start each morning with 25 to 30 cases of it and sell out by 7 p.m.
The Wileys have big plans for the business’ continued growth.
They’re expanding vegetarian options later this year and currently offer a veggie burger. They’d like to add a patio, but the tight storefronts of Madison Heights don't offer much space. In the next few years, they hope to hire more staff then expand to new locations but need an investor or other funding source to get there sooner. In the meantime, Wiley says Riko’s will continue to grow their offerings based on feedback from customers and the community.
In March they held a brunch to celebrate their two year anniversary. The event was so popular they’re hosting a second brunch with a new twist. On June 3 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Hustle and Brunch will offer customers the chance bring their business cards and network with entrepreneurs and business owners from Madison Heights and beyond while they dine.
“I always try to create things that I wish were around when I was trying to network and figure this whole entrepreneurship thing out,” said Wiley.
Reggie Owens (L) and Mariko Wiley work to fill a line of orders, tossing and seasoning plates of wings and fries. Wiley co-owns Riko's Kickin Chicken with his wife Tiffany Wiley. (Cole Bradley)
The neighborhood, she said, is also a big part of their continued success.
She said the area is a place of potential where entrepreneurs can try something new and help create the community they want to see. They want Riko's franchises across and beyond Memphis, but Madison Heights will still be home. When they do begin expanding their staff, they’ll hire from the neighborhood.
“This is where it all started and we plan to stay here,” she said. “I would love to see people cross [from] the apartments across the street and come to work,” she said. “Actually be able to work in their community, buy things in their community and grow with their community.”
Gross said he’s seen improvement in the last two years and momentum. Wiley said she hopes in the next five years, the area looks like more Overton Square with facade improvements, full storefronts and busy sidewalks.
“That’s what I want to see. Movement on our strip, people walking and enjoying themselves, just having a good time not worrying about the time,” she said.
“I want people to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to Madison Heights this weekend. I’m going to eat, shop, socialize and have a good time. Then go to work because I work in the neighborhood too.'”