On August 13, 2020, Claudio Velez, the Tamale Guy, is opened his restaurant on the West side of College. he has been selling tamales from his infamous red plastic cooler for over 20 years. However, this year Velez is trading in his red plastic cooler for a restaurant at 2018 W. Chicago Avenue.
Furthermore, Velez used money from a GoFundMe to open his restaurant at the former Whisk in West Town. After convincing his longtime friends Pierre and Kristin Vega to open a restaurant with him, Velez was able to open the “Tamale Guy Chicago” restaurant. The restaurant will only be open to carry out due to the pandemic.
Although he is grateful for his restaurant, he credits his success to his perseverance and his ability to make friends through Tamales. According to Velez, Tamales are how he was able to send his son, Abad Cruz, to San Diego State University. Velez hopes his new restaurant will be able to pay for law school for Cruz. Still, he admits there were some downsides to his business.
Struggling To Provide
Although Velez is grateful for his restaurant, he credits his success to his perseverance and his ability to make friends through Tamales. According to Velez, Tamales are how he was able to send his son, Abad Cruz, to San Diego State University. Velez hopes his new restaurant will be able to pay for law school for Cruz. Still, Velez admits there were some downsides to his business.
Velez is a Mexican- American immigrant from Acapulco. When he arrived in America, he was 22 years old and lived in an apartment in Wicker Park with seven other people. Velez did not have any money or family. He was able to pay rent by working at Handy Andy Home Improvement store. It was through tamale-making that Velez met his first friend.
Velez met a man named Ferdinand who taught him how to make tamales. The two would go to local bars to sell tamales and made friends with customers by drinking and laughing with them. Unfortunately, one night the two drank too much and crashed their car. While the impact of the crash threw Velez through flying through the windshield with minimal injuries, Ferdinand was not as fortunate. Ferdinand survived the car crash, but he was never the same and eventually returned to Mexico.
Tamale Guy and Perseverance
After the car crash, Velez continued to sell tamales to bouncers and loyal fans. In doing so, he earned the nickname, the Tamale Guy. Moreover, through his 20 years of experience, Velez has made several friends. He credits his success mostly to his perseverance. Making Tamales is not an easy gig. He often gets home late and has to wake up early to buy ingredients to make tamales.
Even with help from his family, Velez only manages to get a few hours of sleep. He sells an average of 500 to 800 tamales a day. Despite his happy disposition, he has experienced moments of despair, he struggled with alcoholism and trust issues. Velez admits that his trust issues are what prevented him from opening the restaurant sooner. He felt many of his other offers were trying to rob him out of money, which is why he pushed so hard for the Vegas’ to become his business partners.
Pierre Vegas hopes the “Tamale Guy Chicago” is successful so Velez can finally rest. Vegas wants to do more of the work so Velez can spend time with his daughters — his favorite pastime.
Opinion News by Reginae Echols
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
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Featured Image Courtesy of Corinne Moncelli’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Top Image Courtesy of LRD615’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License