The SAGA of Chicago’s beloved Tamale Guy continues.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride for Claudio Velez these past few months. First Velez — better known in Chicago as the Tamale Guy, had to adjust his business to make home deliveries, only to get hit with a cease-and-desist from the city, then to receive an outpour of support via GoFundMe to now, where in a month’s time, he will have his own brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Ukrainian Village.
Before all this madness, Claudio Velez was a frequent in Chicago’s late night scene Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town, and Logan Square, where he would be often spotted slinging tamales — often to the glee of bar patrons in need of a refuel.
When everything went down in March, Velez had to pivot his business model. With his number circulating in a small network of lucky patrons in the loop, Velez began making red-cooler house calls. Out of caution and limited resources, Velez kept his hustle mostly on the down low — his intention: just to make enough to get by in this time.
That was until May, when Velez was hit with a cease-and-desist from the city. The incident leading to this action, is meddled in controversy. It came shortly after Velez was asked to participate in a curbside pickup event in the West Loop Community, where customers could call in orders and pick them up so long as they practiced social distancing.
It was during these events that the city received a number of complaints. Ultimately, the city’s letter charged him with conducting business without a proper vending license. Velez stopped his operations immediately.
However, the word soon got out what had happened to Velez. Soon thereafter, an industry friend set up a GoFundMe page on Velez’s behalf, one that raised over $30,000 in just four days.
Now, in yet another positive continuation of events, Velez is set to open up a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Ukrainian Village on Thursday, August 13 — his life-long dream. The restaurant, “The Tamale Guy,” will be located at 2018 W. Chicago Ave. It will have indoor seating, but out of caution, will hold off on indoor patrons until things settle — offering initially seating on its back patio. The restaurant’s website, www.tamaleguychicago.com, will also go live on Thursday.
Velez plans to offer traditional chicken and pork tamales as well as an assortment of other traditional and non-traditional dishes. That includes using banana leaves imported from Costa Rica to make Oaxacan-style tamales — which give the shell a little more custard flavor.
[Featured image: @remeyrozin]