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

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Rafael Ayala, a Mexican-born restaurateur from Cleveland, opens a restaurant in the Fan. (Mike Platania photos)

Something spicy is heading for a sweet rue du Fan.

Passing through Cleveland, Ohio, Blue Habanero Street Tacos & Tequila is gearing up to open at 421 Strawberry St.

The 3,600 square foot space housed the Strawberry Street Cafe from the 1970s until 2018, when the business and building were sold to new owners, who renamed the restaurant Scuffletown Garden. The new concept was opened less than a year ago and closed at the end of 2019.

The Fan building has been vacant ever 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 traveled 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 Fan space 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 am close with, we are like brothers. One day we chatted, talking about doing our own thing. I said, ‘Why not do something in Richmond?’ “said Ayala. “I took a trip to visit and started looking for places. We saw the Strawberry Street Cafe space, and it’s the perfect size I was looking for.”

He recently rented 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 tequila and mezcal-based cocktails.

Blue Habanero’s menu offers more than a dozen taco variations

Some dishes on the menu 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 to convert the Scuffletown Garden space into Blue Habanero.

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

He aims to open the restaurant by the end of March.

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

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