Kiki Cyrus at the Kiki’s Chicken and Waffles in Dentsville, which opened in 2012 (Photos by Holly Poag)
Kiki’s Chicken and Waffles in Columbia has welcomed celebrities like President Joe Biden, former Sen. Hillary Clinton and USC women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley since opening its doors 10 years ago.
The owners, Kiki Cyrus and her husband, Tyrone, don’t know how the celebrities discovered the restaurant.
“They just come, and I think it’s because we grew a big brand and people ask where to go to get soul food, good food, and people say to come to Kiki’s,” Cyrus said. “It’s crazy.”
The restaurants — there are two location — are best known for their chicken and waffle dish, but also serves Southern staples such as fried green beans and smothered pork chops. Joe Biden’s favorite dish? He ordered the red velvet waffle with cream cheese.
“Most people love the red velvet waffle, that’s, like, our most popular item,” Cyrus said.
One restaurant, in Richland Northeast’s Dentsville, is at 7001 Parklane Road. The second location opened in Harbison in July 2019 at 1260 Bower Parkway, Suite A8. The couple wants to open up additional locations in Charleston and Rock Hill.
“We get a lot of people that travel from the Charleston area,” Cyrus said. “I think that’d be the best move for us.”
Chris Bozard said the only drawback of Kiki’s is the two locations are about an hour from where he lives but maintains the drive is “worth it.”
“There is only one food place in Columbia’s that I would recommend, and that’s Kiki’s,” Bozard said.
The Cyruses worked at Columbia’s California Dreaming restaurant while in college at USC but wanted to have their own business.
“I love cooking,” Cyrus said. “My husband loves cooking and decided to get into the restaurant business. Now, chicken and waffles? We wanted to get into it because it’s a big staple in the largest cities. We needed one here, and we were the first.”
Cyrus has made many connections in the Columbia community through her restaurant. It’s the most rewarding part of Kiki’s Chicken and Waffles, she said.
Raven Cooler won’t go to any other restaurant that serves chicken and waffles when she travels. It would be a betrayal, she thinks.
Her first meal at Kiki’s was in 2017, said she has gone “pretty regularly” since.
“Anytime people come to Columbia to visit me, we go to Kiki’s,” Cooler said.
But the business faced multiple challenges while growing in the Midlands.
“When we first started, probably getting the word out (was the most challenging part),” Cyrus said. “No one wanted to give us a chance because we had just started out.”
Like other restaurants, Kiki’s struggled with keeping staff during the pandemic. Attendance dropped, too. Tyrone said they didn’t welcome any celebrities during the height of COVID-19.
“We’re still continuing to build up staff,” Tyrone said.
Now, she and her husband are setting a new personal goal for themselves. They’re trying to connect with USC students.
“We serve the Gamecock football team, so sometimes they want us to come in and do chicken and waffles for them,” Cyrus said. “But the students don’t know about us.”
Tyrone praised the football team and the women’s basketball team and hopes to be able to cater to the women’s team soon.
“We’re big supporters of USC,” Tyrone said.
Cyrus has been visiting classes in the Darla Moore School of Business to talk about growing a business and advertising her restaurant.
“If I could have you guys be able to use a Carolina Card here, but I think it’s probably too far,” Cyrus said.