Eighteen months after the Broadway Road widening project forced Lerua’s Fine Mexican Food restaurant to leave its home of nearly 80 years, the restaurant famous for its green corn tamales will reopen in a historic building about 300 yards away.
But it could be months before the new 6,000-square-foot location at 2243 and 2245 E. Broadway will be ready.
“We are looking to have a commercial kitchen to do the tamales, and we’ll have a takeout window for tamale sales,” owner Michael Hultquist Jr. said Wednesday, the day after the Rio Nuevo board on Tuesday pledged $500,000 toward the project.
Lerua’s will occupy two former retail spaces on the eastern end of “the Friedman block,” a building that has stood on Broadway since the late 1950s.
It will be the second Rio Nuevo-supported restaurant project in the Sunshine Mile, which stretches along Broadway between Euclid Avenue and Country Club Road and is considered the gateway to downtown.
Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria owner Rocco DiGrazia agreed last September to move his 21-year-old restaurant into a 6,000-square-foot building at 2635 E. Broadway in the Solot Plaza, feet away from its original location at 2707 E. Broadway.
Like Lerua’s, Rocco’s was forced out by the road widening project.
“Any of these iconic restaurants, we want to find a way to keep them on Broadway,” Rio Nuevo President Fletcher McCusker said. “We’re really pleased.”
Hultquist said he is waiting on permits before he can begin renovating the space, which is nearly 1,500-square-feet bigger than Lerua’s original location at 2005 E. Broadway. He said with the coronavirus pandemic still lingering, he is in no hurry to open the restaurant for dining in.
“We anticipate there will be a light at the end of the tunnel and we will have a sit-down restaurant like we did on Broadway,” he said.
Hultquist has yet to reopen the dining room at Lerua’s sister restaurant, El Torero, 231 E. 26th St. off South Fourth Avenue, even after Gov. Doug Ducey two weeks ago lifted his executive order that limited restaurants to takeout only. Hultquist said his customer base of mostly older, at-risk diners told him they were not ready to return to dining in.
Hultquist has run both Lerua’s and El Torero for nearly two years, taking over for his father, Michael Sr., and uncle Brad Hultquist.
When Lerua’s was forced to close in late January 2019, Hultquist incorporated some of Lerua’s menu items into El Torero, which underwent some renovations in late 2018.
Lerua’s is one of Tucson’s oldest continually operating restaurants.