Mexican restaurant to spice up former Strawberry Street Cafe in the Fan

Rafael Ayala, a Cleveland restaurateur born in Mexico, is opening a restaurant in the Fan. (Mike Platania photos)

Something spicy is heading to a sweet street in the Fan.

By way of Cleveland, Ohio, Blue Habanero Street Tacos & Tequila is preparing to open at 421 Strawberry St.

The 3,600-square-foot space was home to Strawberry Street Cafe from the 1970s until 2018 when the business and building sold to new owners, who rebranded the restaurant as Scuffletown Garden. The new concept was open less than a year, closing in late 2019.

The Fan building has been vacant since, which opened the door for restaurateur Rafael Ayala.

Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Ayala moved to Richmond as a teenager. After high school, he and his brother headed to Columbus, Ohio to work at a restaurant. After a few years they moved north to Akron where they opened their first restaurant, Tres Potrillos.

The space in the Fan has been vacant since late 2019 when Scuffletown Garden closed.

In 2018 Ayala looked north again, opening the first Blue Habanero in Cleveland. It did well enough that a year later he opened a second location, also in Cleveland.

Ayala said family connections brought him back to Richmond for what will be Blue Habanero’s third location.

“I have cousins that I’m close with, we’re like brothers. One day we were chit-chatting, talking about doing our own thing. I said, ‘Why not do something in Richmond?’” Ayala said. “I took a trip out to visit and started looking for places. We saw the Strawberry Street Cafe space, and it’s the perfect size that I was looking for.”

He recently leased the space, with Rebecca von Meister of Taylor Long Properties representing him in the deal.

Ayala said the Fan location will have the same menu as the Cleveland Blue Habaneros, with more than a dozen taco variations, appetizers like elote and guacamole, and cocktails made with tequila and mezcal.

Blue Habanero’s menu features over a dozen taco variations

Some menu items will be made with huitlacoche, a type of fungus that grows on corn with a flavor that Ayala describes as smoky and mushroom-like. The delicacy is known as the Mexican truffle.

Work is already underway on converting the space from Scuffletown Garden into Blue Habanero.

“There’s not a lot of work needed. We’re just doing cosmetic stuff and we’re going to remodel the bar,” Ayala said.

He’s aiming to have the restaurant open by the end of March.

“With the vibe of the neighborhood, I think it’ll be a really good fit for us,” Ayala said.

Rafael Ayala, a Cleveland restaurateur born in Mexico, is opening a restaurant in the Fan. (Mike Platania photos)

Something spicy is heading to a sweet street in the Fan.

By way of Cleveland, Ohio, Blue Habanero Street Tacos & Tequila is preparing to open at 421 Strawberry St.

The 3,600-square-foot space was home to Strawberry Street Cafe from the 1970s until 2018 when the business and building sold to new owners, who rebranded the restaurant as Scuffletown Garden. The new concept was open less than a year, closing in late 2019.

The Fan building has been vacant since, which opened the door for restaurateur Rafael Ayala.

Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Ayala moved to Richmond as a teenager. After high school, he and his brother headed to Columbus, Ohio to work at a restaurant. After a few years they moved north to Akron where they opened their first restaurant, Tres Potrillos.

The space in the Fan has been vacant since late 2019 when Scuffletown Garden closed.

In 2018 Ayala looked north again, opening the first Blue Habanero in Cleveland. It did well enough that a year later he opened a second location, also in Cleveland.

Ayala said family connections brought him back to Richmond for what will be Blue Habanero’s third location.

“I have cousins that I’m close with, we’re like brothers. One day we were chit-chatting, talking about doing our own thing. I said, ‘Why not do something in Richmond?’” Ayala said. “I took a trip out to visit and started looking for places. We saw the Strawberry Street Cafe space, and it’s the perfect size that I was looking for.”

He recently leased the space, with Rebecca von Meister of Taylor Long Properties representing him in the deal.

Ayala said the Fan location will have the same menu as the Cleveland Blue Habaneros, with more than a dozen taco variations, appetizers like elote and guacamole, and cocktails made with tequila and mezcal.

Blue Habanero’s menu features over a dozen taco variations

Some menu items will be made with huitlacoche, a type of fungus that grows on corn with a flavor that Ayala describes as smoky and mushroom-like. The delicacy is known as the Mexican truffle.

Work is already underway on converting the space from Scuffletown Garden into Blue Habanero.

“There’s not a lot of work needed. We’re just doing cosmetic stuff and we’re going to remodel the bar,” Ayala said.

He’s aiming to have the restaurant open by the end of March.

“With the vibe of the neighborhood, I think it’ll be a really good fit for us,” Ayala said.

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Michael Dodson
Michael Dodson
1 year ago

Best of luck but Fan is over-over saturated with neighborhood Mexican (or Latin) places.

Mindy Jones
Mindy Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Dodson

You’re right

Justin Reynolds
Justin Reynolds
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Dodson

Michael, you are underestimating how much people love Mexican food, especially college students. Yes we have plenty of options (little Mexico, Lalo’s, Barrio, Pedro’s, El Pope, and another 3-4 a few blocks outside of The Fan), but take note of how well they perform compared to “new American” restaurants. This place seems to have a unique menu with their use of huitlacoche — I think this will be a first for the neighborhood.

Chris Crews
Chris Crews
1 year ago

Coupled with the diversity of Mexican cuisines. It’s like saying “American food.” Once you get past the pizza debate, you have to confront Tex-Mex, Cajun, New England vs Manhattan chowder, and Chesapeake Blue crabs…

charles Frankenhoff
charles Frankenhoff
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Dodson

most of them mediocre though

kay christensen
kay christensen
1 year ago

Looking forward to the opening! Great to see this location back in business.

Mike Upchurch
Mike Upchurch
1 year ago

Awesome! Looking forward to authentic good and great tequila selections! As for the Fan being over saturated with neighborhood Mexican places, there’s definitely room for a quality place that offers something different than poor quality Americanized versions of Mexican food that so many places serve. I hope this place succeeds due to quality and innovation and look forward to trying their food!

charles Frankenhoff
charles Frankenhoff
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Upchurch

exactly. so much awful and mediocre mexican food in the fan

Joel Bieber
Joel Bieber
1 year ago

It will be great to have a restaurant back in there again! Bring back Tub o’! 😀

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
1 year ago
Reply to  Joel Bieber

The tub was disgusting.

Here is a link to the existing spots menu—

https://bluehabanerocleveland.com/dinner-menu

https://bluehabanerocleveland.com/drink-menu

charles Frankenhoff
charles Frankenhoff
1 year ago

this is exciting, I hope its good