Revolving doors: As the pandemic shuts down Fourth Avenue restaurateurs, others see opportunity

Opening and operating a bar or restaurant for any significant amount of time on Historic Fourth Avenue isn't easy even during the best of times. Competition comes from all angles and owners are constantly trying to rebuild their perpetually changing customer base of students.

With that said, to take on any business endeavor during this time—other than an online COVID face mask shop with free shipping—would seem like insanity to even the most insane of entrepreneurs. But some brave souls are doing it downtown and they're dedicated to keeping the flavor on Fourth Avenue.

Pop's Hot Kitchen

Peter Yucupicio is moving his Tucson-famous hot chicken sandwich shop from American Eat Company to the former Tallboys building in early February and updating the name from Pop's Hot Chicken to Pop's Hot Kitchen. Additionally, the owner said he plans to update his super spicy menu with comfort food favorites folks know and love at his new location.

"We're going to expand the menu and we're changing the name because we want to expand on the concept of being a southwest take on Southern comfort food," Yucupicio said.

While he is concerned about the uncertainty of moving to a new spot during this time, Yucupicio said believes his food and his fan base will help the company survive.

"Everything is tentative right now. We don't know what the pandemic is going to be like or what obstacles will be in the way," Yucupicio said. "I'm excited but a little worried. This is definitely a scary time to open up and start new, but I feel like we've built up a good core of returning customers."

Pop's Hot Kitchen
Opening early February
600 N. Fourth Avenue
Thursday-Friday, 11 a.m to 10 p.m./ Saturday-Sunday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Cafe Maggie

When George Shaar heard the news that Epic Cafe was for sale, he said it was an opportunity that he couldn't pass up—even if a global pandemic was afoot. So in early August of last year, Shaar pulled the trigger and said he isn't looking back.

"I've been a big fan of this place for a long time and used to be a regular patron around 2005 and just fell in love with the place. I always felt Epic Cafe was a corridor of culture down here," Shaar said. "It's been on my radar for a while because I know the owners have had some rough years."

For a few weeks after acquiring the place, the 41-year-old said he wasn't sure if he was going to rebrand the business, but ultimately chose to go in that direction. He said he found inspiration for the cafe's new name from a long-time occupant in the building.

"We feel that Epic had its full run for 26 years and to better serve the community it would be best to try and turn over a new leaf," Shaar said. "There's this dieffenbachia plant that's been there for about 20 years that someone named this plant Maggie. So we decided to name the place in her honor."

Cafe Maggie
Now Open
745 N. Fourth Avenue
Tuesday-Friday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m./ Saturday-Sunday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Opa's Grill

A little something died inside every local Greek food lover when longtime Hellenic eatery Athens on 4th announced they would be closing their doors for good. For restaurateur Oais Papoutsis, who opened Opa's Best on Broadway Boulevard nearly three years ago, the announcement was a chance to expand his concept downtown. While he acknowledges the difficulties attempting a new business at this time, Papoutsis said he felt an urgency to jump on the opportunity before someone else did.

"It's difficult right now for all restaurants, but if I didn't move forward on this location, I don't think I would have ever found it again because in a normal situation you don't find a good location on Fourth Avenue," Papoutsis said. "For 27 years it's been a Greek restaurant and downtown needs a Greek restaurant, so that's why I opened there to continue surviving good Greek food."

Opa's Grill features many of the Greek fare lovers of Athens on 4th are accustomed to, but Papoutsis said they have expanded their dinner menu and cocktail menu to include some authentic Greek favorites.

Opa's Grill
Now Open
500 N. Fourth Avenue
Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. / Saturday-Sunday 11 a.m. to midnight