LOGAN SQUARE — Averlado Vergel knows where to get the best watermelon in the city. But this spring, for the first time in 15 years, he couldn’t find anyone who wanted it.
Vergel has been selling fruit and assorted snacks — chicharrones, elotes, ice-cold raspados — since he and his wife, Consuelo, moved here from Mexico nearly two decades ago.
The Logan Square couple bought a pair of food carts to help make ends meet for their family and, over time, they learned the best spots to set up shop: outside their local church on Ridgeway Avenue after mass, near the neighborhood’s schools during pickup time, anywhere there might be a crowd.
That all changed overnight when the coronavirus hit. Like many other street vendors and small businesses, the Vergels were upended by the pandemic, watching demand drop to next to nothing as the streets cleared.
Now in their 50s, the couple also worried about their health.
“With everything going on they were afraid,” said Yenni Vergel, the couple’s eldest daughter. “There are a lot of people not taking care of themselves, not wearing their masks.”
Then Averlado Vergel had an idea. If restaurants were offering food delivery, why not him? He asked his daughter to set up a Facebook page for the business, Lalo Elotes, where people could place orders for pickup or delivery in the Logan Square area.
Many of their longtime customers were happy to have a way to get their favorite snacks without leaving the house. Soon the page had nearly 500 followers.
“I’ve been buying from Lalo since I was in grade school, maybe since I was 10, and [he] never disappoints,” said 25-year-old neighborhood resident Cynthia Alvarez. “People like this are important to our community.”
Some days business is good, other times it can be slow. On a cool, rainy day, they may only get three or four orders. But the Vergels made enough money to cover their rent.
“It’s for a good cause, for my parents,” Yenni said. “I don’t like to see them worried because they don’t have money for rent or to buy food.”
Lalo Elotes has become even more of a family operation, with Yenni taking down orders from Facebook Messenger or by phone, her parents preparing the food and her dad handling deliveries in a mask and gloves.
The most popular items have been the elotes and the fruit, which sell for a couple dollars each, and, especially, the watermelon, which Yenni says her father has a special talent for procuring.
With summer now here, and it being the traditional prime time for street vendors, she has worked even harder to spread the word about the new delivery service.
“My father sells the best corn in the neighborhood,” Yenni said. “Let’s support people like my father … let’s support each other in these circumstances.”
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