Thursday is the day for Claudio Velez as his new venture, the Authentic Tamale Guy, debuts along Randolph Restaurant Row in West Loop. Velez is taking over food operations at Lone Wolf bar where he has an agreement in place with the tavern’s owners, Heisler Hospitality (Sportsman’s Club, Estereo), to stay for six months.
Velez will not only serve Lone Wolf’s customers, but he’ll once again go out on runs to seek out bars in Wicker Park, West Town, and Ukrainian Village to make tamale drops. This is a separate operation from the Tamale Guy Chicago restaurant that opened last year in Ukrainian Village. Velez and his partners had a falling out over control of finances. There’s a pending lawsuit that led to that restaurant’s closure. Velez’s former partners have denied all wrongdoing.
The Authentic Tamale Guy is a means for Velez to gain independence without worry about tangled business relationships. Son Osmar Abad Cruz and a few family members will be helping out. Abad Cruz even helped with a new website.
While Velez preps for Authentic Tamale Guy to open, other family members have recently opened a separate operation in suburban Cicero. Abad Cruz’s half-brother, Kaleb, is making deliveries as his mother, Bety Bautista, runs a restaurant called Tlaxc-Ana. They serve tacos, tortas, and tamales. Bautista says they opened in June and would have opened sooner, but it was a struggle gaining the right suburban approvals.
Back in the city, Velez is reading for a noon opening on Thursday, urging customers to order early. When the Ukrainian Village restaurant opened, the first day featured long lines that stretched blocks of customers waiting for their orders.
The menu features chicken, pork, and cheese tamales. There’s also weekend specials: a Oaxacan-style tamale wrapped in a banana leaf and a variant served with mole. Velez was need of a commercial kitchen space to avoid city fines after West Loop residents last year made complaints to the city about his operation. For two decades, Velez had delivered tamales that were prepared at his residence without notable issue until then.
But now inside a high-profile space, Velez and his family don’t have to worry about complaints. And if their six-month run at Lone Wolf is successful, perhaps other opportunities will pop up — Abad Cruz says they’re still interested in opening their own restaurant.
Authentic Tamale Guy, inside Lone Wolf, 806 W. Randolph Street, opening at noon on Thursday.