In the window of the former Whisk space at 2018 W Chicago Avenue, a message board propped up on a trio of red coolers reads, "You want tamales? See you soon." It was enough to pique the interest of any Chicagoan who's found themselves in a dive bar during the wee hours of the morning when Claudio Vele peddled tamales from his signature red coolers. Their suspicions have been confirmed—Velez, who's lovingly known as "The Tamale Guy," is opening his first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Ukrainian Village.
According to Block Club Chicago, Velez is teaming up with Pierre Vega on the business venture, which will bring his corn-husk–wrapped handhelds to Chicago Avenue as early as this summer. The new restaurant offers Velez a fresh start after a tough run. When bars were ordered to close down back in March, he pivoted to delivery and curbside pickup, but the city shut down his operation with a cease-and-desist order for operating without a retail food license. The community rallied behind Velez with a GoFundMe page that has raised more than $34,000—far surpassing its original goal of $10,000.
Velez and Vega told Block Club Chicago that the restaurant could debut as soon as August, but an official opening date hasn't been confirmed just yet. Though it will likely be a long time before Chicagoans are back to packing dive bars, hopefully they won't have to wait quite as long to devour a pork-stuffed tamale from Velez.
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