WEST LOOP — Like other workers who rely on Chicago’s restaurant and bar scene to earn a living, beloved “tamale guy” Claudio Velez has been hard hit by the coronavirus shutdown.
To help Velez survive the crisis, some enterprising neighborhood groups are stepping up during his slow in business by crowdsourcing big orders of his delicious tamales.
Velez, who is well known for delivering pork, chicken and cheese tamales to hungry bargoers on the Northwest Side, said he had to change his business model when the statewide stay at home order was enacted last month. Instead, he started making one-off deliveries to customers.
But longtime customers wanted to help Velez in a bigger way. Keith Palmer has purchased countless tamales from Velez, who would stop by Irish Eyes, Rosa’s and other bars on Lincoln Avenue.
“He’s saved me many, many times at midnight,” Palmer said.
After reading an Eater article and getting approval from Velez’s son, Palmer posted in Lakeview News Uncensored, a neighborhood Facebook group, to see if his neighbors would be interested in placing a group order of Velez’s tamales.
The response was immediate.
At $15 per dozen tamales, more than 160 neighbors placed more than $1,000 in orders before they closed ordering four hours later, Palmer said.
“I thought a handful of neighbors would jump on. I didn’t know it would get this big,” Palmer said.
Palmer organized a large tamale pickup outside the Sherwin Williams parking lot on Aldine and Halsted Streets. While observing social distancing, Lakeview neighbors picked up their tamales in a 45-minute window.
In the West Loop, Moshe Tamssot, who runs the True West Loop neighborhood Facebook page, asked his neighbors if they would be interested in a group tamale order, too.
West Loop neighbors placed $1,600 in tamales orders, picking them up Tuesday at the West Loop community garden, 37 S. Sangmon St. There, 70 neighbors wrapped around the lot, standing 10 feet apart from one another during the one-hour pickup window.
Tamssot said he hopes to organize more group orders for Velez and other vendors in the future.
Late last month, Eater reported Velez had plans to open a restaurant. During Tuesday’s drop off, he told Block Club he would share more about his plans at a later time.
The first Lakeview pickup was so successful Velez and his son have organized two delivery days in Lakeview.
Palmer said Velez is a “humble guy” who he’s happy to help.
“There are plenty of places that you can buy tamales around here, but everyone knows him here and they love his product and we wanted to support him,” Palmer said.
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