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Jefferson Park, Portage Park, Norwood Park

Neighbors Raise Thousands For Beloved Portage Park Chef After Her Emergency Surgery

Lulú Alvarez, owner of Pueblo Nuevo, plans to sit by the restaurant's entrance so she can thank every person who has helped her once the business reopens.

Lulu Lara is the owner of Pueblo Nuevo, 4342 N. Central Ave., in Portage Park.
Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago
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PORTAGE PARK — For nearly a decade, Lourdes “Lulú” Alvarez has served Mexican fare on the Far Northwest Side, building up a loyal following and calling her customers by their first names.

Alvarez is the owner and chef of Pueblo Nuevo, 4342 N. Central Ave., which has been open for almost 11 years. In recent years, severe back pain began making work more difficult — and Alvarez learned she had non-cancerous tumors and needed emergency surgery, said her daughter, Esther Lara.

The family had $30,000 for a down payment on the $80,000 surgery, and Alvarez underwent the 10-hour operation two weeks ago, she said. Doctors removed four baseball-sized tumors, she said.

“Luckily, I am doing OK, but the healing process goes little by little,” Alvarez said in Spanish.

The family closed the restaurant while Alvarez recovers. She does not have health insurance, and the business — like many restaurants — has faced financial struggles during the pandemic. Facing those obstacles, the family turned to the community to raise funds for Alvarez’s surgery and recovery.

Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago
Pueblo Nuevo, 4342 N. Central Ave., in Portage Park, temporarily closed May 3 while the owner underwent surgery.

Lara started a fundraiser to collect $30,000 — and the community has been quick to help. The campaign has raised more than $7,000, and the family has been inundated with positive messages.

“We appreciate all the support — that’s what the world needs right now: support and to help one another,” Lara said. “We are all human beings, and we need to treat each other with respect.”

Alvarez, who is from Guanajuato, Mexico and moved to Chicago 22 years ago, misses her customers and can’t wait to see the, though her doctors said she needs to recover for at least another two to three weeks, her family said.

“The support is needed. … It brings me so much happiness, and there are no words for people’s comments and support,” Alvarez said through tears. “First there was COVID, where we made no money, but with help from husband, we continued. … I am the luckiest person thanks to my customers and to God.”

As soon as Alvarez is able to, she plans to reopen the restaurant, buy an armchair and sit in the entryway to thank every person who has donated to her recovery, she said. She hopes to reopen at the end of the month or in early June.

Alvarez’s husband will take over as chef and her daughter will be the server, and they hope to have an employee as a second chef, the family said.

Lara hopes to raise more money to cover the restaurant’s bills while it’s closed, but she said any amount is helpful for the family, who live a few blocks from the business.

In the meantime, Alvarez is resting and eating healthy food, Lara said. She is taking everything one day at a time and hopes to get back to her restaurant to serve the neighborhood.

“This was a really hard change for me, but now I am going to rest and slowly thank everyone I can,” she said. “I have the best customers in my life.”

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