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Nuevo Café on S Dale Mabry Highway is rising from the ashes

VIRGINIA PARK — He had only owned the restaurant for two years before it burned nearly to the ground in July 2008. But Al Suarez never doubted he would rebuild the Nuevo Café.

What was left of the eatery, known for its Cuban sandwiches and deviled crab, was gutted to a shell a few months ago, and work has intensified in earnest on the site at 3301 S Dale Mabry Highway. The new Nuevo Café should be open in September or October, Suarez said.

Partner Mike Wasp, who bought the business with Suarez in 2006, has moved on, Suarez said. But he couldn't.

"The busier it was at the restaurant, the happier I was," Suarez said. "My grandparents had a restaurant; my uncle had a restaurant. I'm ready to go."

No stranger to adversity, Suarez has rebuilt his career before. A former Tampa Fire Rescue captain, he was notably forced out of his job in 2005 for his involvement in a firehouse photo shoot featuring two strippers. Running the restaurant, he said, gave him great joy.

"When I rolled up to that fire, it was devastating," he said. "But you've got to think positive. I'm coming back to this restaurant with two years' experience. I know what to do, what not to do, how I'm going to enhance it just a bit. I'm looking forward to it."

The fire, which officials ruled was caused by an electrical short in a light fixture, had a few silver linings. Suarez was able to help his wife, Samantha Ward, campaign last fall for a Hillsborough County Circuit Court judicial race that she ultimately won.

And Suarez has spent this year helping coach the Citrus Park Little League's 13- to 14-year-old team, which includes many of the players from the Citrus Park team that made it to the Little League World Series last year in Williamsport, Pa. The team — which is "just as good as they were then," Suarez said — has advanced to the sectionals tournament, which begins today.

The fire also made Suarez realize how many loyal customers the Nuevo Café had acquired since it first opened in 2005.

"My phone rings off the hook every time they see something going on" at the building, Suarez said.

The restaurant will be open daily from about 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will feature a tropical-style interior and a menu that has been tweaked, Suarez said, but will include all the old favorites.

Sculptor moves on

Belgian artist Marc De Waele's South Tampa gallery has closed after less than a year in business. But that doesn't mean his eye-catching, imposing metal sculptures have disappeared from Tampa altogether.

De Waele moved out of the Art Symphony Galleria space at 2714 S MacDill Ave. two weeks ago and has set up a new workshop and home studio in Seminole Heights.

"He needed more space," said his agent and partner, Terri Kolek. "He's doing a lot of large, really cool sculptures. They're big and there wasn't a lot of room for him to work."

De Waele was commissioned by PepsiCo to create a 7-foot-tall sculpture of a quarterback fashioned of Pepsi cans for the NFL Experience at Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa in February. The piece is now at the company's New York headquarters, Kolek said.

De Waele plans to adorn the South Seminole Heights property with more examples of his sculpture. The new workshop is at the corner of Emma Street and N Boulevard, and De Waele is available by appointment. His Web site is For more information, call (813) 205-4905.

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Nuevo Café on S Dale Mabry Highway is rising from the ashes 07/23/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 23, 2009 4:30am]
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