by Nancy Stiles
Yaqui's, an upcoming wine bar and wood-fired-pizza restaurant, is shooting for an end-of-February opening at 2728 Cherokee Street. Originally, co-owner Francis Rodriguez hoped to open last November, but repairs to the 120-year-old building took much longer than expected.
"We had contractor problems here that set us back a couple months," Rodriguez tells Gut Check. "We will be open at the end of February, come hell or high water."
Rodriguez says that the entire front half of the building had to be completely gutted and redone ("You could see straight from the second floor to the basement," she says), and that none of the plumbing or electrical wiring could be salvaged. That being said, it will look like an 1890s building on the outside and an 1890s tavern on the inside, albeit a little more modern.
The team is working out the menu now, which will focus on wood-fired pizza and fine wine. Yaqui's will also serve barbecue on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Rodriguez, a former teacher, grew up in the area and actually bought his Roosevelt High School class ring in the Yaqui's building in the 1970s, when it was a Zales.
That is just a coincidence though -- Rodriguez aquired 2728 Cherokee with the help of his friend Steve Smith, who owns the Royale. Smith was planning to open a tavern with his father in the space, but it was during the economic crisis of 2008, so it didn't work out. Rodriguez says Smith, with whom he has worked with before, was nice enough to hold on to the building until he could raise enough money to buy it.
"There's this whole thing that's going on that we recognized in St. Louis. People seem hopeful about Cherokee -- everybody seems wired to it somehow," Rodriguez says. "We'll talk to people who have no interest in the city, and they're like, 'We really hope you guys on Cherokee can make it.' That's why we are down here."