LOGAN SQUARE — When customers walk into Cherubs Cafe, owner Elvia Basilio always makes sure to ask how they are doing and tell them what items are popular.
“Everyone loves my tacos. You have to try the smoothies,” Basilio says to newcomers. For longtime customers, she already knows what they want.
Cherubs Cafe at 2524 W. Fullerton Ave. has served fresh elotes, tacos, burritos and smoothies to the Logan Square neighborhood for more than 15 years and has been a regular at the Logan Square Farmers Market for the past 10 years. She said her stand always has a long line and the community raves about her food and drinks.
But the new market rules exclude food vendors this year due to the pandemic, so Basilio is unable to sell there. And with no more private parties or catering orders, close to no indoor dining and a surge in ingredient prices and third-app delivery service fees, she is struggling to pay her business bills and keep the cafe running.
At the beginning of the month, Basilio started a GoFundMe to help pay the cafe’s backlog of bills and quite literally keep the lights on. So far it has raised nearly $2,000 out of its $20,000 goal.
“I need to tell everybody, I am in the struggle, please help,” she said.
Basilio said the day after the page went live and was shared on social media, lots of customers showed up to Cherubs. Everyone wanted to help, she said. Friends and neighbors wrote her checks, donated to the fundraiser and came by to order and personally thank her for her food.
One neighbor decided to lend her private backyard so Basilio could host a taco pop-up. Basilio said the overwhelming support helped her finally pay her electric bill, which was four months late.
“On Monday, I paid my light bill completely, thanks to my neighbors,” she said. “For next week, they told me they are going to support me again and I am going to pay my gas bill for my business.”
Basilio said her neighbor is letting her host weekly taco pop-up events 11 a.m.-2 p.m. every Sunday at the northeast corner of Altgeld Street and Campbell Avenue through September to help her make back the money she was depending on from the farmers market. Donations from the online fundraiser will also help her stay afloat, Basilio said.
At last Sunday’s event, the Logan Square Neighborhood Association bought 14 gift certificates at $50 each as a staff appreciation gift, which Basilio said was incredibly helpful.
“My community, they support me all the time and [the association] is helping me a lot,” she said. “All of my neighbors told me, ‘You are not alone. We are with you.’”
Dan Miro is one of those neighbors. Miro, who has lived close to Cherubs for seven years, is a loyal customer of Basilio’s and donated to the fundraiser. He said he orders from the cafe at least once a week and loves the smoothies and tacos.
Miro said it can be easy to take neighborhood staples like Cherubs for granted since it’s been around for a long time, but now more than ever is the time to support people like Basilio.
“She’s a proud woman, a self-made woman, so for her to ask for help, that’s when you know that it’s hit the fan, so to speak,” Miro said. “It’s real and critical for someone as strong as her to admit that she might have to shutter. We were not going to allow that to happen.”
Bridget Murphy, director of the Parent Engagement Institute at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and a longtime friend of Basilio’s, said she often hosted meetups, tutoring sessions and program graduations at Cherubs and the cafe has always been an inviting and cozy spot.
“To be able to have a comfortable place in the neighborhood that was welcoming and had coffee” was great, Murphy said. “It became our unofficial headquarters.”
Murphy said since Basilio has been struggling and working nonstop since the pandemic hit, the Logan Square Neighborhood Association wanted to support one of their own and give back by buying gift certificates.
Basilio, who lives across the street from her cafe, has been an active member of the community since she moved to Logan Square more than 26 years ago from Mexico. She takes pride in being a single mother who opened her own business while raising two sons. She’s volunteered with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, hosted neighborhood fundraisers and raised money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for more than a decade.
Basilio said she’s thankful for the resounding community support but hopes it doesn’t stop. She wants the fundraiser to be a reminder she still needs the money, especially as the pandemic continues and industry experts predict 1,500 independent restaurants could close once it’s over. She’s working hard to make sure she’s not one of them.
“I am working seven days a week; it’s just me because I don’t have money to pay another person,” she said. “I don’t have any days off. It’s insane, but I love what I do. I love Cherubs.”
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