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‘Tamale Guy’ Claudio Velez Sick With Coronavirus, But Fans Raise $48,000 To Help With Medical Bills

Velez became ill just weeks after opening his first restaurant in Ukrainian Village.

Claudio Velez, also known as "The Tamale Guy," is opening a restaurant at 2018 W. Chicago Ave. in Ukrainian Village.
Hannah Alani / Block Club Chicago
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UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Supporters of Claudio Velez, the famed “Tamale Guy,” have already raised more than $48,000 to help as he struggles with coronavirus.

Velez, who recently opened his first restaurant, is seriously ill and is using a ventilator at a hospital ICU. Velez and his business partner shared the news Saturday in an Instagram post.

Velez felt ill last week and stayed out of his restaurant. He went to Rush University’s hospital in an ambulance Thursday after having trouble breathing, Pierre Vega, Velez’s business partner, told Block Club. By Friday afternoon, Velez’s fever had gone down, but he was still on the ventilator Saturday. 

“We are just praying for him and hope for his recovery,” Vega said.

A GoFundMe to help Velez and his family with his medical expenses was set up Sunday and raised its goal of $20,000 within hours. As of Monday morning, more than $48,800 has been raised.

In the instagram post, Velez and Vega said their restaurant will close for now.

“His condition is improving but he will be left with extensive medical bills,” the post said. “We are closing the restaurant until further notice to make sure our team is taking the proper safety precautions. We have been truly overwhelmed by everybody’s support and kindness over the last few weeks. Please keep Claudio in your thoughts and wish him a speedy recovery.”

Velez opened his first brick-and-mortar restaurant earlier this month at 2018 W. Chicago Ave. in Ukrainian Village.

Velez, 55, got into the tamale business after moving to Chicago at 28. He is originally from the Acapulco region of Mexico. 

For almost two decades, Velez has walked the streets and sold tamales out of his trademark red cooler, often selling to hungry bar patrons on the North Side. When bars shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Velez lost his income. 

RELATED: The Tamale Guy Is Opening A Ukrainian Village Restaurant

Velez tried switching his business model to home delivery, but city officials slapped him with a cease-and-desist letter in May, the Tribune reported. Chicagoans rallied to support Velez, raising more than $33,000 in a GoFundMe fundraiser

Velez was able to use the money toward creating his first restaurant. Within hours of its opening, it’d sold out.

“I am very excited, especially with everyone who helped make this dream possible,” Velez said in Spanish last month. “This has always been my dream.”

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