ROGERS PARK — The sudden death of Saul Moreno due to coronavirus devastated his family and caused the closure of the beloved Rogers Park restaurant he owned for 15 years.
But after an outpouring of love and support from the community, the Morenos have decided to reopen Restaurante Cuetzala Gro.
Initially, the Morenos said they could not carry on the restaurant without Saul, who was the friendly face many customers associated with the business. But now the restaurant will serve as a testament to the work the family patriarch put in to help the Morenos build the American dream, they said.
“We were still in the grieving phase, and the thought of continuing without my dad, it felt weird,” said Daisy Moreno, Saul’s daughter. “We realized we can’t just throw in the towel after 15 years of hard work.”
Cuetzala Gro, 7360 N. Clark St., closed in April following Saul’s death at 58 due to complications from the coronavirus.
Once news about the closure got out, Rogers Park neighbors stepped up to help the family financially, to offer their condolences and to ask the Morenos to reconsider their decision to shut down, Daisy Moreno said.
The family then decided keeping Cuetzala open could be a great way to honor Saul’s memory.
Cuetzala reopened June 19, with Saul’s wife, Maria, and son Hugo stepping in to run the business. Daisy, who just graduated college and has a job in finance, helps on the weekends.
Saul Moreno came to the United States from Mexico City at 13. He eventually landed a job at a Downtown seafood restaurant that inspired him to create recipes he’d later serve at his own restaurant long after the seafood joint closed.
When that restaurant did close, Saul followed several other employees to work at a car dealership — but his passion belonged in the kitchen, his son, Hugo, previously told DNAinfo Chicago. The Morenos saved up enough to open a spot in their home neighborhood of Rogers Park.
Cuetzala opened in 2005, and Saul spent nearly every day since working the kitchen and greeting guests. The restaurant business was a family affair, with the family helping out as much as possible.
The restaurant, featuring a colorful interior, has become a family favorite in Rogers Park. It was also the realization of Saul’s dreams, his family said.
Saul became ill March 23, and he closed his restaurant the following day. His conditioned worsened, and he died April 15 after three weeks in intensive care.
The family decided to retire from the restaurant business, even selling much of the place’s kitchen equipment.
Then they were flooded with well wishes from the community. Flowers and candles were left outside the restaurant. Handwritten notes were passed under the storefront doors. Pedestrians stopped the family and asked them to reconsider the closing, Daisy Moreno said.
Thanks to the help of relative Maria Rivera, who owns Las Palmas in Wicker Park, the family decided to reopen Cuetzala and carry on the tradition Saul started.
“Without the customers, we wouldn’t be here this long,” Daisy said. “We didn’t want to abandon them.”
Rogers Park neighbors raised $20,000 for the Moreno family, helping to cover burial costs for Saul. With leftover money from the fund, the family was able to buy new kitchen equipment and hire back staff.
Cuetzala is much the same restaurant Rogers Park neighbors have come to know, Daisy Moreno said. The only difference is a memorial wall, which honors Saul’s legacy with pictures of his rise from a kitchen staffer to a restaurateur and community figure in Rogers Park.
“It feels nerve-racking, but also exciting,” Daisy Moreno said of reopening. “He was able to accomplish so much, coming to the U.S. with nothing and achieving his dreams.
“We want to make him proud, and also make the community proud.”
Cuetzala will be open 1-8 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays.
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