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Tamale Guy’s Restaurant to Reopen Wednesday as Claudio Velez Remains Hospitalized

Velez will likely remain in the hospital for a few more weeks

Two men with coolers.
Tamale Guy Chicago’s Pierre Vega and Claudio Velez stand on their restaurant’s back patio.
Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

As Claudio Velez’s health continues to improve, his partners have announced that their restaurant will reopen Wednesday in Ukrainian Village. Velez, known as the “Tamale Guy” has been resting at Rush University Hospital since August 27 after diagnosed with COVID-19. The 55-year-old Velez was placed on a ventilator and at one point he was in critical condition and sedated.

But last week, Velez’s condition saw a dramatic turn. His fever came down and on Tuesday doctors hoped to take Velez off his ventilator, says son Osmar Abad Cruz. Velez will still need hospitalization for a few more weeks.

Velez is a cult hero in Chicago for his DIY tamale operation. He’s sold tamales out of a red plastic cooler, making stops at various bars for 20 years. The food served as a treat to bar customers who needed some late-night grub. But as the pandemic closed bars in March leaving Velez without customers, he began offering home delivery. Business was booming until he received a cease-and-desist letter from the city, a product of an anonymous complaint emanating from the West Loop, Velez laid low. Fans began raising money via GoFundMe for Velez to help make up for the business lost thanks to the city’s threat. They raised more than $36,000. Velez used the money to make a dream come true. He opened up a restaurant, Tamale Guy Chicago, with partners Pierre and Kristin Vega.

But only a few weeks after opening, Velez began struggling with breathing. He didn’t check into the hospital immediately, but finally did at the urging of his wife. Doctors say he contracted one of the most severe cases of COVID-19 that they’ve seen.

The Vegas set up a second GoFundMe to help pay for Velez’s medical expenses. Fans have so far raised more than $56,000. Velez does not have health insurance. Family hasn’t been allowed in the hospital room due to COVID-19 restrictions. Velez hasn’t been able to speak. Family, including wife Bety Bautista, have used video calls to see Velez. Velez is divorced from Abad Cruz’s mother.

Abad Cruz hopes to better know next week how much longer his father will remain at the hospital. Meanwhile, the Vegas will reopen Tamale Guy Chicago at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Tamale Guy Chicago

2018 West Chicago Avenue, , IL 60622