After his first venture failed to gain a following in Mechanicsville, a local restaurateur is cooking up something new in the city.
Yofre Blanco is opening Kanoa Latin Cuisine at 417 W. Grace St. near VCU.
Blanco, 43, is backed by an investor and has a five-year lease on the long-vacant, 2,450-square-foot space that was once owned by infamous Richmond real estate developer Justin French. Blanco said he plans to open in the spring.
Kanoa will serve Latin American food with an Italian influence, and Blanco said it will be inspired and guided by a similar concept he ran in Mechanicsville called Sapori Italian and Latin Cuisine.
Blanco opened that venture in 2012, and despite positive reviews, closed it in December 2014.
“During those years I basically went to college,” Blanco said of his experience in Mechanicsville. “I learned a lot about the business and restaurant scene. Now, I’m taking the best and bad of what I learned and bringing a fresh idea to the city.”
Kanoa – a play on the Spanish word for canoe – will be one of the few eateries along the stretch of West Grace Street between North Adams and North Belvidere streets. The space is surrounded by apartments and VCU parking decks and sits next door to a salon.
“There are a lot of changes going on in the area,” Blanco said. “I think that all the changes that are coming around are going to bring people to the restaurant.”
Blanco said the impending arrival of more apartments nearby and VCU’s new Institute for Contemporary Art will be a boon for his business. Blanco said he hopes he can lease some of the spaces at the nearby parking decks for diners.
He hopes Kanoa will be a destination for visitors to Richmond CenterStage at 600 E. Grace St. and Virginia Repertory Theater at 114 W. Broad St.
And Blanco plans to do takeout and lunch delivery to local offices to help drum up business.
“Lunch is very tricky time for people because they don’t have much time,” Blanco said. “I need to have something everyone can relate to.”
Blanco said he is working with a budget of about $85,000 to renovate and open Kanoa.
Jeff Thompson is the architect for the space, and Giancarlo De Marco is doing the interior design.
“We’re going for that rustic look,” Blanco said. “I want to bring that artsy kind of vibe to the interior of the restaurant.”
Prices will range from $5 to $22 for brunch, lunch and dinner. The space will also hold wine dinners, readings and artwork for sale by local artists.