Gentle Ben’s Brewing Co. expanded its footprint on East University Boulevard after buying the 2.5-year-old Bacio Italiano restaurant in March.
This week, that footprint got even bigger when landlords signed a lease for the corner space at 943 E. University Blvd. which had housed The Dutch Eatery & Refuge for nearly five years. They plan to open a sit-down Mexican restaurant called Casa Agave in July, said Richard Fifer, one of three owners of Gentle Ben’s at 865 E. University Blvd.
The Mexican restaurant is one of three new restaurants opening on Main Gate in the coming months, and another is in the works for the long-closed Auld Dubliner space on the corner of the university and North Euclid Avenue. , said Jane McCollum, chief executive of the Marshall Foundation which owns and manages the Main Gate properties.
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McCollum said the lease on the Auld Dubliner space hasn’t been finalized, so she couldn’t comment on the plans, but said it was a longtime restaurant operator in Arizona.
Fifer and his partners, Russ Moore and Jennifer Treusch, realize they’re taking a huge leap of faith in tripling their college attendance, but Fifer said opportunities in the college’s bustling entertainment district d Arizona don’t show up often.
“There’s been a lot of growth in the region and I see that as a lot of opportunity,” Fifer said. “It’s a lot to bite into at once, but the opportunity won’t come again.”
It will likely be mid-July before Casa Agave opens, which will feature an extended patio created by taking about 20 feet from the existing windows to allow for an indoor-outdoor bar and patio. Fifer said work could start next week and would take several months.
McCollum said Main Gate is in dire need of a sit-down Mexican restaurant.
“We feel like with 400 hotel rooms, we’re missing that room that everyone comes to Tucson for,” she said, referring to the Tucson Marriott University Park and the adjacent Graduate Hotel, which were packed last weekend for the NCAA Women’s March Madness Tournament.
Fifer said he and his partners began talks with Bacio owner Andrew Avella in February and took over the restaurant in March with Justin Fitzsimmons, who worked in his uncle Daniel Scordatto’s restaurants, to run the kitchen. . Fifer said they plan to add “more exciting dishes” to Bacio’s menu and use more local and fresh ingredients.
Avella said on Tuesday that the time had come to leave the restaurant business, which has been difficult lately with ongoing staff shortages and the pandemic. He said he plans to return to more tech-focused businesses that might involve food.
“It’s (a restaurant) a tough business,” Avella said as staffers and Fitzsimmons prepared the restaurant to open for lunch service. “These guys are awesome and I’m here to support them.”
More in the works
Also coming to the main gate:
Downtown smoothie/acai bowl restaurant Berry Greens is opening its second location in the former Jamba Juice space at 943 E. University Blvd. The restaurant has been open at 245 E. Congress St. since early 2020, around the start of the pandemic, manager Kat Monreal said.
Berry Greens, owned by Monreal’s best friend Andres Marmion, spent six months at American Eat Co. on South Fourth Avenue before moving downtown.
Monreal said the University Boulevard location was perfect since it once housed a smoothie shop. In addition to fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies and acai bowls topped with everything from fresh strawberries and berries to mango and tropical dragon fruit, Berry Greens serves fresh cold-pressed juice from the so-called ” Greenie” – with spinach, celery, kale, lemon, cucumber, green apple and ginger – to the popular juju beet juice with beet, apple, celery and ginger.
Work has begun on the build, which includes updating the space and the kitchen.
“There’s a lot more work to do than we initially thought,” Monreal said, adding that they hope to open in mid-July before students return for the fall semester.
Brothers-in-law Scott Harrison and Jim Roberts open Peace, Love & Pops, a craft popsicle shop, in the space that used to house Sonoran Cycles at 845 E. University Blvd.
The business is modeled after a similar popsicle store in Birmingham, Alabama, where Harrison, a former radio sportscaster, spent several years doing marketing and public relations for Taco Mama. The Birmingham-based fast-casual Mexican restaurant chain has nearly two dozen restaurants throughout Alabama.
Harrison said he and Roberts first toyed with the idea a few years ago, after he and his wife took Roberts and his wife to the local store. When Harrison and his wife moved to Tucson in January 2021, the pair revisited the idea and took the plunge.
Peace, Love & Pops will feature fresh fruit popsicles as well as more inventive flavors, from regional prickly pear to cream and grain-based popsicles. Some of the treats will also include fresh fruit with the fresh juice.
“Where we want to show faith and experimentation are opportunities for smaller batches with flavors you might not have thought of,” Harrison said. “We just want to make popsicles and have fun.”
If all goes well with city and county permits and store furnishings, it could open in early April.
The restaurants will join another relative Main Gate newcomer, Fullylove’s at 944 E. University Blvd., a classic American family restaurant in the former Greek taverna Pelio Grill. Fullylove’s has been open since the beginning of this year.
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at [email protected] On Twitter @Starburch