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Tamale Guy Chicago Restaurant Reopens Wednesday — But Claudio Velez Is Still Fighting Coronavirus

Staffers have tested negative for coronavirus and will reopen the restaurant Wednesday with strict rules to help protect employees and customers.

Claudio Velez at his tamale restaurant at 2018 W. Chicago Ave. in Ukrainian Village.
Hannah Alani / Block Club Chicago
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UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Tamale Guy Chicago will reopen this week as owner Claudio Velez continues to fight coronavirus.

The restaurant at 2018 W. Chicago Ave. will reopen 11 a.m. Wednesday, according to a Facebook post. Every member of the staff has tested negative for COVID-19, according to restaurant leaders.

“We are very much stressing a ‘one customer inside at a time’ rule in order to keep everyone as safe as possible,” the post said. “We have assigned extra cleaning tasks and any employee with an elevated temperature reading will be sent home. We sincerely want to thank everyone for keeping Claudio and the rest of our staff in your thoughts. We are looking forward to seeing all of your masked faces tomorrow!”

Eater first reported the reopening.

Velez was admitted to Rush University Hospital late last month after testing positive for COVID-19.

The restaurant has not shared any updates on Velez’s condition since late last week. In a Facebook post Friday, restaurant leaders said Velez’s condition had “stabilized,” but that he was expected to remain in the hospital for “some time.”

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

“He cannot respond verbally but we know he can hear us,” the post said. “He is physically responding to our voices especially when we mention the restaurant. Claudio has a long recovery ahead but we believe he will pull through. He has a lot of family, friends and tamale lovers in his corner supporting him. We truly thank all of you for your continued and generous support.”

GoFundMe to help Velez and his family with his medical expenses was set up and raised its goal of $20,000 within hours. As of Tuesday evening, more than $56,000 has been raised.

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, which he opened last month. Within hours of its launch, it’d sold out.

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

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