After Old Cuevas Bistro burned to the ground in July 2014, loyal customers waited hopefully for news about the Pass Christian restaurant’s comeback.
In early 2015, word began to spread that the bistro would relocate across the Bay Bridge to a former retail spot inside a historic building at 111 Main Street in Bay St. Louis.
Work began on the new Old Cuevas Bistro, bar and a deli but the original opening in May slipped to the fall.
Having missed the Memorial Day holiday and summer season, owners Cassandra Timmons and Toni Strickland aimed for October’s Cruisin’ the Coast vintage car event that brings bumper to bumper crowds to Bay St. Louis and other Coast cities.
Timmons, who owned the original restaurant on Menge Avenue in Pass Christian, and Strickland, who is co-owner of the new location, could see the pent up appetite for the bistro as they worked on their new venue.
“Every day we’re down there, at least five people come in a day and ask when we’re going to open,” said Strickland at the time.
Cruisin’ the Coast came and went, too, while the owners oversaw the installation of flooring and equipment and the finishing touches.
Finally, with a staff hired, Old Cuevas Bistro opened Dec. 14 and began taking reservations for dinner-only starting the following night. A couple of weeks later lunch service was added, and the crowds have been showing up every day. “It’s fabulous,” said Strickland. “Everyone is happy and they love the food. All the old regulars are coming in and a lot of new faces from the Bay, from Hattiesburg, New Orleans and Mobile. We’re pretty much booked weekends three or four days in advance for Thursday through Saturday.”
The menu is a carryover from the original restaurant and features dishes such as blackened redfish topped with tomato Crabmeat Creole on wild rice and pan seared salmon served on roasted potatoes and brussels sprouts with a lemon dill cream sauce. The fish is all fresh, except for the Delta catfish, Strickland said.
A Facebook commenter reported, “Just had my Chicken Milanese, after a long agonizing wait of …18 months. Everything was great.”
The response since the opening has been better than the owners imagined. “We never expected this,” said Strickland. “We’re having repeat customers daily, some come two or three times a week.”
Tish Williams, executive director of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce, located across the street from the bistro, said, “I have noticed that this restaurant is drawing some of their past loyal customers from Pass Christian and Diamondhead to the Bay area and that it has become a magnet attraction for the district.”
Janice Guido, who owns Bay Life gift shop in the same building, said the bistro has brought customers to her business. “Cuevas in my opinion will help anchor the first block of Main Street and in the long haul will help all downtown merchandise due to the Cuevas reputation which pulls in the Pass crowd as well as New Orleans and up the Coast,” she said.
The bar inside the bistro reminds one fan on Facebook of the famed TV Cheers bar. “The bar can be three deep at times,” Strickland said.
The deli, which sells to-go items including gourmet meats and cheeses, fresh baked bread and homemade chicken salad, has to be restocked frequently. New items such as pate and pimento cheese are being added as customers request them.
The owners also plan new lunch and dinner items and desserts in the future.
“We’re very pleased with the support everybody has given to us,” said Strickland.
She said the bistro is still in the soft opening phase of settling in to the new operation. “We’re still training and getting our kitchen staff up to par.”
Adjusting to the overwhelming customer demand, Strickland and Timmons decided to close the restaurant on Mondays for now to give the staff a much needed break.
“We’re letting everybody get adjusted,” Strickland said. “Even our old staff is having a time keeping up.”