While Mercadito’s managing partner, Alfredo Sandoval, spends about a quarter of his week traveling—mostly to New York and Miami, where he runs three additional outposts of the restaurant—he couldn’t get much closer to the high-end taco and tequila joint when he’s in Chicago and off the clock. The sprawling, 3,500-square-foot apartment he shares with his girlfriend and Mercadito events manager, Wendy Wohlfeill, is four floors above Mercadito in the same River North building.
The concept that home life revolves around work life—at least geographically—is hardly foreign to the seasoned restaurateur, who relocated from New York to Chicago in 2010. “If you want to have successful restaurants, you gotta be there regardless,” Sandoval says. “I would rather take the elevator and go downstairs than walk ten blocks and take a cab for 20 minutes. In the 12 years I lived in New York, I lived in nine different apartments. As we opened [more restaurants], I kept moving within three or four blocks of them.”
The 38-year-old foodie comes from a long line of restaurateurs and chefs. His father owned the renowned Madeira in Acapulco, where Sandoval grew up. Three of his four brothers are involved in Mercadito, and prior to the restaurant’s opening, Sandoval worked with his fourth brother on various Latin-infused restaurants across the country. He’s hoping his upcoming endeavor with chef Ryan Poli, Tavernita, slated to open in River North in September, will be the next Mercadito in terms of making a splash.
One of the first things any guest will notice about the open floor plan of Sandoval’s apartment is the kitchen. Save the foo-dog statues above the stove and glass canisters filled with gummy bears and gumballs to sate Sandoval’s sweet tooth, it’s pretty spare. It’s also a perfectly spacious working area, which is great for nights that Sandoval opts to cook (mostly pasta dishes for guests) but even better on the occasion he invites Poli to test recipes at his house. “The majority of original tacos [for Mercadito] were created in the kitchen in my apartment in New York because we had nowhere else to cook,” Sandoval explains. “I want to say [having Ryan cook here will] hopefully bring us good luck like Mercadito.”
The proximity to the restaurant also makes it easy to consider future extensions of the Mercadito brand. For instance, they’re planning to convert the third floor of the building to an event space, where the restaurant can host cooking and mixology classes in the front area; if all goes as planned, the back area will be used as a prep space for future Mercadito taco trucks.
Stylistically, there are moments in the home that nod to the restaurant below: the flamboyant light fixtures (some of which were already in the apartment when the couple signed the lease), the exposed brick walls and two graffiti-style portraits of their Yorkie terriers, Wasabi and Lilly. Wohlfeill commissioned the two pieces from painter Ernie Vasquez, who also produced the artwork for Mercadito. They also commissioned the full-bed-size wood table in the living room from Sandoval’s good friend, a carpenter in Mexico whom Sandoval’s father’s employed full-time for Madeira for 30 years and who also created wood interiors for Sandoval’s restaurants.
Otherwise, it’s a modern home with minimal flourishes. “I think the large spaces and open areas make it very easy to entertain here, which is exactly what we were hoping for,” Wohlfeill says. “Our personal comfort comes in for us with the addition of items that represent both of us.”