ROGERS PARK — Saul Moreno came to Chicago as a child before working his way up to owning a beloved Rogers Park restaurant — achieving the American dream for himself and his family.
Now, Rogers Park is left mourning a pillar of the local business community, after Moreno died last week from the coronavirus. He was 58.
Moreno was the owner and chef of Restaurante Cuetzala Gro, 7360 N. Clark St., a colorful, family-favorite Mexican restaurant that has been a mainstay of the Clark Street business corridor.
Cuetzala opened in 2005, and Moreno spent nearly every day since working the kitchen and greeting guests. The restaurant business was truly a family affair, with Saul’s wife, Maria, also helping in the kitchen, and son Hugo handling accounting and other business duties, said Daisy Moreno, Saul’s daughter.
Moreno’s untimely death has left his family and neighbors reeling. The family will close Cuetzala following Moreno’s death, Daisy said.
“When we got the bad news, it felt like the world was crumbling around us,” Daisy said. “We thought a lot about it. The best thing to do would be to close it down. It just doesn’t feel the same without him.”
Moreno died April 15 from the coronavirus, following a three-week stay in an intensive care unit while battling the disease, Daisy said.
Moreno fell ill on March 23, and he closed his restaurant the following day. His conditioned worsened, causing him to be hospitalized and put on a ventilator, Daisy said. Progress was made, until the infection caused complications to organs like his kidneys and pancreas. Efforts to wean Moreno off the ventilator were unsuccessful, Daisy said.
“My father has always been a healthy individual,” Daisy said. “It was really shocking when he got it. Rogers Park wont feel the same without him.”
A self-employed man, Moreno’s death has devastated his family while leaving them financially vulnerable. But Rogers Park neighbors, devastated by his death, have raised over $16,000 for the family in just two days.
“To see the community agree that he was a great man, it brings us so much joy,” Daisy said. “We’re so grateful.”
Moreno came to the United States from Mexico City at age 13. He eventually landed a job at a Downtown seafood restaurant that would inspire him to create recipes he’d later serve at his own restaurant long after the seafood joint closed.
When it did, he followed several other employees to work at a car dealership — but his passion belonged in the kitchen, Moreno’s son, Hugo, previously told DNAinfo Chicago. The Moreno’s eventually saved up enough to open a spot in their hometown of Rogers Park.
“I couldn’t do what they do,” Hugo Moreno said of his parents in the 2016 story. “They’re the only ones who can do the recipes. Nothing is written down, they don’t use measurements. They just know it all by heart.”
Cuetzala wasn’t always a Rogers Park institution. Moreno had to work hard to win customers, and he labored to be the friendly, always-present face of the business.
But the business grew to be a neighborhood favorite. Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), having just won her election in April 2019, celebrated with a staff dinner at Cuetzala.
“Saul was a wonderful person and he and his restaurant were a special part of our community,” Hadden said on Facebook.
The family business allowed the Moreno’s to send their three children to college, which was a dream of the first-generation family.
Daisy, who just graduated from the University of Chicago-Illinois and is to start a new job in finance, said she appreciates her father’s model of hard work. Not only for helping her achieve her dreams, but for setting an example of how to live and achieve your goals.
“He was always ready to get up in the morning and serve his customers,” she said. “He told us to always work toward your dreams, and not let anything come in the way.”
To make a donation to the Moreno family, click here.
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