Yaqui, come home: Big Ray's owner plans Teepee Taco next door

Food and ancestry will intertwine at Nick Cruz's latest restaurant in Tampa.

click to enlarge Teepee Taco's Nick Cruz, who also owns the neighboring  Big Ray's Fish Camp. - Jamie Peiffer
Jamie Peiffer
Teepee Taco's Nick Cruz, who also owns the neighboring Big Ray's Fish Camp.

A local restaurateur with a passion for cooking has a creative mom-and-pop take on Mexican cuisine planned for Tampa’s Ballast Point neighborhood.

Nick Cruz, whose roots are with the Yaqui, a Native American tribe that traveled from Mexico to Tucson, Arizona, will open Teepee Taco at 6118 Interbay Blvd. Paying homage to his Yaqui ancestry, the 900-square-foot restaurant’s debut, slated for May 5, is set to coincide with the Mexican celebration of Cinco de Mayo.

Though Cruz’s flagship, Big Ray’s Fish Camp, opened on Interbay Boulevard with fresh, local seafood dishes just six months ago, the eatery’s popularity led him to launch a second concept right next door.

“We saw how well the neighborhood responded to us,” Cruz told CL last week during a sneak peek preview of the under-construction Teepee. The area surrounding MacDill Air Force Base, where his two restaurants are located, “needed something different.”

To maintain the authenticity of the Yaqui culture, the owner recently took a weeklong trip to Mexico, researching traditional Yaqui and Mexican fare and gathering inspiration for the new restaurant’s menu.

Teepee will feature favorites such as tacos and fajitas, as well as special items like pheasant, rattlesnake, elk and deer. These, according to Cruz, are animals “the Yaqui would have hunted along the way as they traveled.”

Serving lunch and dinner, the restaurant will hold five to six tables, with seating for approximately 40. Black-and-white photos of the Yaqui will line the interior walls of Teepee, alongside decorative artifacts that honor the spirit of the tribe.

Patrons will also find a 34-foot tall teepee pitched outside, housing six to seven tables with additional seats. Open to diners and their pets, this area will include a bar serving beer and wine, plus an ice cream parlor with vibrantly colored Mexican desserts.

Cruz, who has worked as a cook his whole life and will run both concepts, is eager to delve into another restaurant. He says he sees his employees as family, and some of the Big Ray’s staff will be trained to work at Teepee. 

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