SOUTH CHICAGO — A Southeast Side grocery and bakery that closed nearly 30 years ago has been reborn, as the owner’s son recently opened a grab-and-go bakery in the same building at 83rd Street and Houston Avenue.
Chico’s Oven, 3023 E. 83rd St., offers freshly baked doughnuts, pizza and sandwiches out of a walk-up window. The shop opened July 23 with limited weekend hours, 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday.
Doughnuts are $1.50 each, and they’re “good, hefty doughnuts,” owner Jorge Perez Jr. said. A dozen won’t fit in a typical doughnut box, so “we need a box and a half.”
Pizza is $3.50 a slice, and ham or turkey sandwiches made with fresh pan bolillo are $4.50. The bakery’s hours and menu may expand in the future, Perez said.
Chico’s unique combination of pizza and doughnuts aims to draw kids playing across the street in Russell Square Park and students from Epic Academy after school, Perez said. The bakery is also located a block from the 83rd Street Metra stop.
“A lot of people are still asking why I’m doing this here in South Chicago, in The Bush,” said Perez, whose childhood nickname gives the bakery its name. “If we don’t do this here, nothing changes.”
Chico’s is the spiritual successor of Christy’s Grocery and Bakery, which operated in the same location from 1977 to 1994.
The business supplemented the family’s income when Perez’s father, Jorge Perez Sr., was laid off from his job at one of the steel mills that dominated the neighborhood for decades.
The elder Perez, who still lives in East Side, eventually returned to work at U.S. Steel’s South Works. He was “one of the few” employees to be transferred to the company’s Gary Works upon the South Works’ closure in 1992.
Chico’s uses the same Blodgett deck ovens Perez Sr. purchased for Christy’s 40 years ago. The family ties continue into the next generation, as the younger Perez’s teenage sons work alongside him in the shop as the only employees, aside from him and his wife.
“I would really love for [my kids] to learn the heritage in our family of baking bread, as my grandparents were bakers and butchers in Mexico,” Perez said. “It’s really important to me for them to keep that going.”
In addition to owning Chico’s, Perez has made a career in economic development and serves as a board member for a new firm, Lake Effect Community Development.
He has always wanted to revive his parents’ shop and sees it as a springboard for drawing investment to South Chicago, which “was the original port of entry for Mexican Americans 100 years ago,” he said.
Perez’s father “was like, ‘Dude, what are you doing?'” when he first purchased the building from his father in 1996, he said. Decades later, he’s brought the old family bakery back to life.
“We used to say, ‘We don’t have nice things in South Chicago; they’re in Hyde Park, South Shore or Northwest Indiana,'” he said. “I don’t want to say that anymore. I want to fill the doughnut hole — why don’t we build that stuff here?”
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