Jose Ulises Evaristo Martinez at Sun Wah BBQ restaurant. Credit: Provided

UPTOWN — Sun Wah BBQ workers are rallying around the family of a friend and longtime employee who died last month.

Jose Ulises Evaristo Martinez, 32, died from complications of COVID-19 on Sept. 24, according to his friends and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. Known to friends as Spike, Evaristo Martinez is survived by his parents, brother and four children: Leonardo, Ulises, Genesis and Jayden.

Evaristo worked at Sun Wah, 5039 N. Broadway, for 10 years, said Kelly Cheng, his close friend and co-worker. She launched a GoFundMe campaign with his family to raise $6,000 to pay for cremation expenses and sending Evaristo Martinez’s ashes back to Mexico, where he was born. The remaining money — if any — will go to his children, helping to cover their post-high school education.

“We know we’re thinking a little bit further into the future,” Cheng said. “But this is the last thing we might ever do for them, so I wanted to make sure that this money is going to be there to help them.”

In a long tribute to her friend, Cheng wrote Sun Wah hired Evaristo Martinez to help out in the kitchen. They ended up training him to carve the restaurant’s legendary ducks for customers.

Remembering the years they spent together handling the chaotic routine of the restaurant, Cheng wrote about the strain they endured during the pandemic and the tough days after Evaristo Martinez became ill.

“We did our best to stay safe during this pandemic,” Cheng wrote. “We fought with people over masks, we labored over how to move the floor around for the best layout to social distance, we built safety equipment from scratch. We thought we were nearing the end, we were seeing the light at the end of the crazy tunnel, we were going to make it out of the pandemic safely.

” … As you stayed home to get better, we planned for your return. When you went to the hospital, the rest of us covered until you could be released and get back to work. When you didn’t come home, we put on a strong face in front of the customers and cried with each other in the kitchen. We can’t put into words how to say good bye to our friend, our brother, our family. After ten years as a family, that’s the hardest part.”

The fundraiser had already raised more than $3,000 by Thursday. Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) shared it in a tweet, inviting the community to support Evaristo Martinez’s memory.

You can donate to the GoFundMe here.

“With this virus, you roll the dice every day,” Cheng said. “So I think it’s important for people to realize the impacts of their actions if they don’t follow specific rules.”

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