A new restaurant — one that also will house a bathtub — is in the works on Richmond’s Strawberry Street in the former Strawberry Street Café space.
The restaurant, which is currently unnamed, will specialize in “tapas and beer” with a focus on flavors from all of Latin America, co-owner Arnoldo Ruiz said.
Nearly everything on the menu will be $5, a business strategy he said he hopes will appeal to neighborhood families, especially given the current economic climate.
Despite the emphasis on beer in the concept, “we want to still be a family business; it’s not a bar,” Ruiz said.
And, best of all for Richmond bathtub fans, Ruiz said the famed bathtub that once held the salad bar at Strawberry Street Café for years is making a comeback. It’s been in storage at a private residence in Henrico County since last year.
“It’s nostalgia and respect for the place that was there for 40 years,” Ruiz said of returning the bathtub to 421 N. Strawberry St.
Ruiz doesn’t yet know how he’ll be using the bathtub, possibly to hold ice and beer, but knows it’ll be incorporated in some way inside the restaurant before opening.
He hopes for a fall debut and will be relocating his family from his native Mexico, perhaps as early as this month, to begin work on the tapas and beer restaurant.
He’s mindful, though, that the COVID-19 pandemic could slow his plans for the new spot; he’s been attempting to follow the state’s business opening guidelines from Mexico to ensure he’s up to speed and ready for whatever awaits him when he’s finally ready to open the doors.
“The restaurant business has changed,” he said.
Ruiz has more than 30 years of restaurant experience, most recently working for chains, such as Señor Frog’s, a Mexican-theme bar and grill restaurant in resort towns throughout Mexico.
He currently lives in Córdoba, Veracruz, which is where he met Octavio Camacho, the Córdoba businessman who purchased Strawberry Street Café and its building in 2018 for $1.375 million. Camacho tapped Ruiz and a third business partner (and Córdoba resident) Alfonso Herrera to develop and open a new concept in the former Scuffletown Garden space.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Ruiz said.
Camacho has previously worked with Richmonder Derek Salerno on the Scuffletown Garden project. Camacho’s primary business is in manufacturing equipment in Mexico. He was looking for investment opportunities in the states in 2018 and was connected with Richmond, the local restaurant scene and eventually Salerno by way of his American-born attorney who has a son who attended Virginia Commonwealth University.
Salerno said he’s not involved in the new restaurant in the former Scuffletown Garden space.
Scuffletown Garden, if you recall, was the restaurant that took the place of Strawberry Street Café for five months in 2019; it repurposed the former bathtub salad bar to use as an outdoor garden.
Strawberry Street Café, of course, was an iconic Richmond restaurant for more than 40 years. Its years in operation meant that most Richmonders had dined there or were at least familiar with it.
But it was the restaurant’s bathtub salad bar — that is, salad ingredients presented in bowls resting in an antique clawfoot bathtub — that propelled the restaurant to iconic status, especially once the bathtub salad bar was featured on TV’s “Jeopardy!” in the 1990s.
Strawberry Street was sold in late 2018, then officially closed by the new owners in March 2019. The new owners reopened the restaurant with a new name — sans bathtub salad bar — in June 2019 before closing less than six months later.
Despite positive reviews for Scuffletown Garden, the bulk of the conversation — for the full year, from the November 2018 announcement that the restaurant would be sold through the new restaurant’s run and closure in November 2019 — was dedicated to the fate, and more specifically saving, of that bathtub salad bar.
There were emails, phone calls, letters to the editor, whole social media threads and more all demanding the bathtub be saved.
That was last year. Back in 2019, a simpler time, when our biggest worries were about a bathtub salad bar. But the cries were heard, Richmond, all the way down in Mexico even. So rest assured, the bathtub will be back, in some form or another, very soon.