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Tacos El Cuñao plans to open soon at 809 Market St. in an Art Deco-style building that still has signage for Hickey-Freeman men's suits.
There's going to be more and more people physically living down there. That's going to help drive evening traffic. Lunch traffic's not a problem.

Are y'all ready for authentic Mexican food in downtown Chattanooga?

That question hangs in the air — literally — on a banner that Tacos El Cuñao put outside an Art Deco-style building at 809 Market St. that for years was the Hardie and Caudle clothing store and still advertises Hickey-Freeman men's business suits on the storefront.

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Louie and Meredith Ziebold talk about the building they recently bought in the 800 block of Market Street. "We have two tenants. The building runs from Market through to Broad," Louie Ziebold said.
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Employees of Taco El Cunao move equipment into their restaurant, Louie and Meredith Ziebold talk about the building they recently bought in the 800 block of Market Street. "We have two tenants. The building runs from Market through to Broad."

Other restaurants have failed in the space.

But a young couple who bought the building in August, Louis and Meredith Ziebold, expect that to change since they've lowered the rent, and they think downtown restaurants will see a boost in dinner traffic as new residents move to the city center.

"The previous [owners'] rent was prohibitive," Louis Ziebold said. "I'd rather have the restaurant come there and thrive versus being strapped and me having to go through two or three restaurants."

Downtown Chattanooga is having its biggest burst of residential development in decades, with some 1,740 new apartments and condos slated to open over the next few years, thanks to new construction and the repurposing of existing buildings. A 10-story apartment complex is under construction on Market Street a block away from the Ziebold's building.

"There's going to be more and more people physically living down there," Louis Ziebold said. "That's going to help drive evening traffic. Lunch traffic's not a problem."

Cuñao means 'brother-in-law'

Tacos El Cuñao, which serves a wide variety of Mexican food, already has a restaurant open in Brainerd at 5813 Lee Highway and in Cleveland, Tenn., at 713 S. Lee Highway in a now-stationary taco truck parked next to what's known as the "Spam can," a Quonset hut-shaped building near Bradley Central High School.

Cuñao is slang for "brother-in-law" in Guanajato, Mexico, where the restaurant's owner, Sacramento Guerrero, comes from, said his daughter, Kassandra Guerrero.

"In Mexico, that's how they call each other," she said.

And the restaurant's logo — a mustachioed boy wearing a white cowboy hat — is a photo of Sacramento Guerrero Jr., the son's owner, when he was 5 years old and he had annoyed waitresses to the point they took revenge with a black marker.

"The waitresses got him and drew the mustache on with a Sharpie," Kassandra Guerrero said.

Sacramento Guerrero has about 35 years in the restaurant business, his daughter said. He started selling Mexican food out of coolers at soccer games, she said, and at one point had four restaurants in Dalton, Ga.

Tacos El Cuñao should open soon, she said, and its hours will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Guerreros run a family operation, she said, and don't serve alcohol. Though that could change downtown, she said, if enough customers ask for alcohol.

Tacos El Cuñao signed a three-year lease with the Ziebolds just a few days after the couple bought the 7,325-square-foot building for $600,000 last month. The Ziebolds' real estate agent got them in touch with Sacramento Guerrero. The Ziebolds' building has another storefront on the Broad Street side that they lease to Vaportonics, which sells electronic cigarettes.

Building has 'neat architecture'

The building at 809 Market St. has an Art Deco facade, which was popular in the 1920s and '30s, but the structure is much older. It was built around 1890, according to Hamilton County Assessor's Office records.

"They must have redone the front of it at some point," said Ziebold, a 35-year-old who also owns a machine shop, Southern Machine LLP.

The Ziebolds grew up on Signal Mountain and met after college about a decade ago at "Wine Over Water," a wine-tasting fundraiser event held every fall on the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge. Meredith Ziebold is a criminal defense attorney, and she plans to eventually open an office upstairs in the Hardie and Caudle building.

Tacos El Cuñao will be next door to Chuy's Mexiville, a Mexican restaurant that opened about three years ago.

An official at the River City Co., a private nonprofit organization that promotes downtown, is happy the vacant Hardie and Caudle space will be filled.

"It's a wonderful building. It's got some neat architecture," said Jim Williamson, River City's vice president for planning and development. "We're excited there's another business going in."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/Meets ForBusiness or twitter.com/meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.

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