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.
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.
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.