Iowa Weird: Flavor Flav’s Failed Fried Chicken Restaurant

Alain BENAINOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

In a different timeline, Clinton, Iowa, would be home to the first of many Flav’s Fried Chicken (FFC) locations and Col. Sanders would be America’s second-most famous fried chicken pitchman.

In January 2011, rapper/reality TV star Flavor Flav partnered with Clinton restaurateur Nick Cimino to open the first of what the duo hoped would become dozens of locations of FFC starting in Cimino’s hometown. 

FFC was located in a repurposed Long John Silver’s that was situated between its chief competitor—Kentucky Fried Chicken—and Mama Cimino’s, a pizzeria also owned and operated by Cimino.

The restaurant’s decor and signage was not subtle about Flavor Flav’s role in the business. The walls featured murals of Flavor Flav that were commissioned by Cimino and even the menu above the counter featured a smiling Flav.

“I want people to feel him in the building, even when he’s not in the building,” Cimino told the Clinton Herald at the time.

The rapper, one of the co-founders of the legendary hip-hop group Public Enemy, and Cimino met through Nick Cimino’s brother, Peter, who owned a Mama Cimino’s in Las Vegas where Flavor Flav sold 99-cent wings. 

Flavor Flav attended culinary school in the late 1970s and worked in a few restaurants before he made it big. He told former Des Moines Register Columnist Kyle Munson the secret to his chicken was that he seasoned the meat directly rather than just the breading. 

A master at work! YouTube screenshot

While it was unusual for the New York-based MC to start a business in Iowa—he described the state as “way out here in the middle of some place”—Flavor Flav did so on the basis of his relationship with the Ciminios, who have been in the pizza business since 1975.

“When the (Cimino) family first met me, it was automatically love at first sight,” Flav told the Clinton Herald. “They loved your boy Flav.” 

The opening of the restaurant drew international eyeballs and, depending on who you talk to, the food received decent reviews.

Legendary! Photo courtesy of Dan Stevenson

Quad Cities Radio DJ Connor Kenney wrote a 10-year anniversary story about FFC last year and surveyed folks on what they thought of the food (for the record, he wasn’t impressed with it):

“Former B100 morning show hosts Redhot Brian Scott and Tony Tone said the food was good. Others agreed and said the food was good, others said ‘the chicken was nasty.’”

Restaurant review site Heavy Table gave it one out of four stars but said the fried chicken was the best bet.

Here’s how Heavy Table described the chicken:

“The breading was light, but crispy, and the meat was really quite moist. Was it something about how it was cooked, or did it owe more to factory farming practices? Regardless, it was decent for what it was.”

Much like Flavor Flav’s relationship with Brigitte Nielsen, an actress and model he became acquainted with through reality TV, things started out well with FFC! Flav fried the first piece of chicken in FFC and told the Clinton Herald: 

“You’re going to find me in here working. You’re going to be catching me seasoning my chicken, flouring my chicken, frying up my chicken, and not only that, but serving my chicken to my people.”

The restaurant opened on Jan. 24, 2011, and by April 24, 2011, Flavor Flav announced he was pulling out of the venture.

One of the first incidents that seemed to ruffle his feathers was former employees claiming Nick Cimino never paid them—he attributed this to a credit card glitch. When asked about this by TMZ, Flavor Flav initially defended his partner and denied the claims:

 “It’s not true information, first of all. And second of all, maybe these are people that’s just jealous of me being here and probably want to see me out. Yes, we do have money in our accounts.”

However, later that month he was signing a different tune. While speaking with TMZ again, Flavor Flav said he went to the restaurant on April 2 and found potato salad that expired in February.

“I realized I can’t do business with this man and I really hope no one ate those potatoes,” he told the celebrity gossip site.

Flavor Flav accused Cimino of mismanaging the business while Cimino told Quad Cities TV station WQAD the rapper was a “fraud.”

“[He] wants to become a millionaire off my dime, off my ideas,” Cimino said. “I started this. I put together everything from the menu to the color of the building to the sign.”

FFC closed but its memory would live on. Flavor Flav would go on to open additional restaurants in Las Vegas and Sterling Heights, Michigan, both of which have since closed. 

Months after FFC failed, Cimino closed his Mama Cimino’s location in Clinton; however, the family-owned franchise still has locations in Las Vegas and Dixon, Illinois. 

According to the Clinton Herald, Cimino blamed the venture with Flavor Flav for hurting his Mama Cimino’s business, which had previously been open for about 8 years.

A May 2011 tweet from an account under Nick Comino’s name placed further blame on Flavor Flav, although he is not named: “It hurts when a million people told me not to trust someone and I did and I got stabbed in the back so only trust yourself.”

That Twitter account also teased opening a Ciminio’s Fried Chicken and Ribs on Las Vegas Boulevard.

So what of the former Long John Silver’s turned Flav’s Fried Chicken? The location has been at least two other restaurants since: Papi’s Restaurant and Cousins Family Restaurant, which opened in December 2013 and is still going strong.

 

by Ty Rushing
06/08/22

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