The Tamale Guy Is Opening A Ukrainian Village Restaurant – Block Club Chicago

Restaurant News

UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Claudio Velez, Chicago’s beloved “Tamale Guy,” is opening his first brick-and-mortar restaurant — and it’s in Ukrainian Village.

The restaurant at 2018 W. Chicago Ave. could open in August, said Pierre Vega, Velez’s business partner.

A longtime customer of Velez’s, Vega said he went into business with Velez to help him realize his lifelong dream of owning his own restaurant. The duo leased the storefront near the corner of Damen and Chicago avenues in July.

“He’s been super, super excited … . He’s just ready to get back to work, to start making tamales again,” Vega said. “We’ll be able to feed all the hungry, hungry people some tamales.”

Hannah Alani / Block Club Chicago

“I am very excited, especially with everyone who helped make this dream possible,” Velez said in Spanish. “This has always been my dream.”

The restaurant name isn’t set in stone, but it will likely have some iteration of “The Tamale Guy,” Vega said.

For almost two decades, Velez walked the streets and sold tamales out of his trademark red cooler, often selling to hungry bar patrons on the North Side. When bars shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Velez lost his income.

Velez tried switching his business model to home delivery, but city officials slapped him with a cease-and-desist letter in May, the Tribune reported. Chicagoans rallied to support Velez, raising more than $33,000 in a GoFundMe fundraiser.

Neighbors pick up tamales from Claudio Velez in Lakeview earlier this month.
Keith Palmer

Velez’s new restaurant will be his first brick-and-mortar spot, Vega said. The business will replace Whisk, a brunch spot that closed this year.

“It’s an exciting time for all of us, but I couldn’t even tell you how much joy he’s filled with right now,” Vega said of Velez.

The partners toured several spots across Chicago, but this location resonated with them the most, Vega said.

“We were dead set on it,” he said. “It’s Claudio’s demographic, right in the heart of where he served his customers, the random patrons, the numerous bars where he sold tamales. It just made perfect sense when we saw the place.”  

Rumors of Velez’s move to the West Town area have been spreading in neighborhood Facebook groups; however, neighbors were unable to confirm a specific location or opening date.

Neighbors received a big clue last week when red coolers and a sign reading, “You want tamales? See you soon,” were placed in the former Whisk window. Vega confirmed the news to a Block Club reporter on Wednesday.

“It’s very exciting to be opening up a restaurant. … You definitely don’t read about too many restaurants opening up right now,” Vega said. “I really wish as many businesses were able to stay open right now.”

Hannah Alani / Block Club Chicago

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