Thursday was an all-nighter for Claudio Velez that led to 5 hours of sleep after making his strategy to 20 bars whereas making the tamale drops which have endeared him to Chicagoans for greater than 20 years. Velez began his workday within the morning with loud applause from prospects sitting at Lone Wolf’s 23-table sidewalk patio alongside Randolph Road. Velez and his household launched their new operation, the Genuine Tamale Man, from the West Loop bar and later that night time he stopped at bars like Rainbo Membership, Hideout Inn, and Bucktown Pub.
The brand new settlement with Lone Wolf provides Velez a base of operations the place he can have a hybrid enterprise of serving prospects his traditional tamales with corn husks and inexperienced salsa at his house tavern whereas having the choice to bar hop afterward. The primary buyer at Lone Wolf lined up round 10:30 a.m. Thursday and Velez says he and his household made 1,500 tamales earlier than promoting out.
Thursday felt just like the outdated days for him as a Chicago nightlife legend who fed hungry bar prospects at taverns with out meals service. On opening night time, he mingled with prospects, took selfies, and cracked smiles with bartenders who haven’t seen him since earlier than the pandemic. Velez hopes this new partnership with Lone Wolf will work out higher for him in comparison with his Ukrainian Village restaurant. A falling out with these companions has led to a pending lawsuit. Since a kind of companions, Kristin Vega, was a longtime employee at Straightforward Bar, he’s staying away from that Wicker Park spot: “I don’t wish to begin any hassle,” Velez says, along with his son, Osmar Abad Cruz translating.
Velez’s story has been nicely chronicled, from his rockstar standing, hassle with the town attributable to West Loop complaints, and the opening of his first restaurant. He’s gotten used to the eye and applause. He even obtained one other ovation in September as he was discharged from Rush College Medical Middle following a 35-day keep for remedy for COVID-19. Abad Cruz mirrored on how far his father has come, remembering seeing his dad within the hospital, staring blankly into area with the illness affecting his respiratory and senses.
“I simply wish to him to do nicely,” Abad Cruz says. “He deserves this.”
The Tamale Man did check out house supply final 12 months after COVID-19 closed bars and minimize him off from his buyer base. Whereas Velez says his dream is to finally open one other restaurant, visiting Chicago’s bars are what perks him up. By the years, a part of the enjoyable was the luck concerned in randomly working into Velez at a bar. The Tamale Man’s tendencies and routes have been unknown. Velez nonetheless won’t publicize his routes and that preserves a number of the pleasure for old-school followers. Supply will finally be made obtainable in every week or two so of us can plan their night time round tamales.
Velez says he plans on visiting on one other 20 bars or so on Friday night time. He’s stopped consuming alcohol for a bit, agreeing to renew in late August to coincide along with his son’s birthday: “There’s too many issues with alcohol,” he says.
Nonetheless, interacting with followers stays his favourite pastime. Velez has been delivering tamales for greater than 20 years round Chicago after immigrating from Mexico. With the assistance of his son, they’ve been looking for a licensed kitchen area to make tamales since final 12 months. They related with a Fb group, True West Loop, who launched them to Lone Wolf’s homeowners at Heisler Hospitality (Estereo, Queen Mary). Whereas delivering tamales to bars, Velez and his household would make meals from their properties. Chicago’s cottage meals legal guidelines are restrictive, permitting only a few meals to be made at house. Objects like jams and baked items can solely bought at farmers markets. In different elements of the nation, together with the LA space, cottage operations flourished through the pandemic. Although they’ve stored all of the recipes the identical “it’s loads totally different” working at Lone Wolf. There’s much less fear about fines from the town, which one thing the officers threatened final 12 months in cease-and-desist letters prompted by complaints after Velez bought tamales at a West Loop park: “We really feel extra protected and at peace as a result of there’s a license to cook dinner,” Velez says.
On Thursday night time, a buyer gave Velez a $100 tip, and he says he might really feel his followers’s love all through the night time. At 56, he says he’s decided to maintain up the tempo: “If I’ve the energy, I’ll go forward and make it work,” he says.
On Saturday night time, a video crew from Vice Media will accompany him on his tamale run. He’s been standard with the media with TV and print interviews. Velez additionally says he plans on dropping off any leftover meals on the finish of the night time and feeding folks with out housing who reside below Chicago’s bridges. He says he wants to provide again to the group that’s supported him.
“The folks, they care lot,” Velez says.
The Genuine Tamale Man, inside Lone Wolf, 806 W. Randolph Road, open midday to midnight, Wednesday by Monday.