Longtime Montrose cafe Baba Yega will reopen this fall, almost three years after a fire destroyed the historic bungalow that houses the restaurant.
Permits filed earlier this month with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission indicate that the restaurant is getting closer to reopening. A representative for the restaurant’s owners confirmed that Baba Yega is aiming for a return in the Fall of 2021, though no more specific timeline has been set just yet. The restaurant has been closed since Friday, December 7, 2018.
At around 9 p.m. that night, while the restaurant was still serving customers, a fire broke out near the front entrance, causing extensive damage to the roof, according to the Houston Chronicle. Though the restaurant was still open, no one was hurt in the blaze. A cause for the fire has not been named.
Baba Yega’s owners originally planned to reopen in 2019, but that goal was pushed back, likely due to the coronavirus and construction delays. Progress on the bungalow’s rebuilding has been slow but steady — for several months, blue tarps covered the roof, and fire-damaged debris was piled in the parking lot. More recently, the building’s exterior appears to be nearing completion, and the tarps have since been replaced by a construction fence that surrounds the restaurant’s perimeter.
The fire capped a tumultuous few years for the restaurant, which opened in 1975 and was known for its boozy brunches and shady back courtyard, complete with century-old oaks, fountains and fish ponds.
In 2016, longtime owner Sidney Hakim sold the restaurant to Fred Sharifi and Ashkan and Sue Nowamooz, who also own Rice Village brunch hotspot Hungry’s.
In 2018, just a few months before the fire, a manager at the restaurant filed a lawsuit in Harris County Court, alleging that Baba Yega’s new owners shut her out of important meetings and eventually fired her after she reported discriminatory practices at the restaurant, including the use of ethnic slurs, sexual-orientation-based slurs, racially discriminatory comments regarding customers, and age discrimination from her co-workers and employees she supervised.
In a response to the lawsuit, the new managers of Baba Yega denied the allegations and requested a jury trial. That trial, which concluded in October 2019, found that the manager’s firing was retaliatory, and awarded her more than $30,000 in back pay and compensation.