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South Chicago, East Side

La Catrina, A Family-Run Banquet Hall, Will Open On The Southeast Side This Year

Owner Maria Medina put "all her savings" into transforming a former East Side tavern into a banquet hall — then got $250,000 from the city to continue making improvements.

Left: The renovated La Catrina banquet hall, 10759 S. Burley Ave. in East Side. Right: Crews remodel the interior of the building, which was formerly Pete's Hideaway, a tavern that sponsored successful men's softball teams in the community.
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EAST SIDE — A Southeast Side woman is hoping her new banquet hall can draw more positive traffic to her neighborhood and give her son the opportunity to start his career in business and event planning.

Maria Medina plans to open La Catrina banquet hall and event space at 10759 S. Burley Ave. in East Side by the end of the summer.

The venue, which holds about 100 people and includes a kitchen and bar, will offer a much-needed, family-friendly event space to neighbors, Medina said.

East Siders looking to host birthday parties, family reunions and funeral receptions often go to Hegewisch or Indiana to rent event space, Medina said. She typically uses her church’s hall when she hosts an event, but that isn’t always available, she said. Local bars are another option, but they aren’t appropriate for all events, she said.

“When I purchased the property [two years ago], I saw the need for banquet halls — something that can be family-oriented,” Medina said. “… I don’t like to have celebrations for kids or after a funeral service in a bar.”

La Catrina recently received a $250,000 community development grant from the city to continue renovating the property. The funds will help pay for masonry, windows, patio and other exterior work.

Medina, a real estate agent, invested “all her savings” and used a line of credit to make needed roof, plumbing and electrical repairs to the building before getting the grant.

The new money will let Medina make the additional improvements, which she initially planned to complete after the banquet hall was open.

“When you have an investment and you put everything there and you don’t have more money, you do the things necessary by the city so the money can start coming in,” Medina said. “[We previously thought] once the money starts coming in, we’ll do the rest.”

The banquet hall is not affiliated with La Catrina Restaurant on the Logan Square-Avondale border nor the closed La Catrina Café in Pilsen.

La Catrina will be a family-run hall, as Medina has worked with her husband and kids to get the space up and running.

Medina’s two teenage children helped clear six dumpsters of trash from the vacant building and are working on building a website, while her 21-year-old son, Geancarlo Medina, successfully helped apply for a zoning change and is set to manage the venue, she said.

The chance to book guests and manage the hall’s operations has helped Geancarlo Medina bounce back from the challenges he’s faced during the pandemic and find a new passion, Maria Medina said.

“When we started all of this, he changed his major to business and he’s motivated,” Medina said. “… I’ll be checking up behind him on what he’s going to be doing, but now he’s doing a lot of research and reading — getting involved in most of this stuff in order to be able to run the business.”

The property was previously Pete’s Hideaway, a tavern once owned by former steelworker Peter Crnjak that sponsored nationally successful men’s softball teams.

La Catrina is somewhat secluded, tucked away on Burley Avenue between East Side homes and heavy industrial facilities on the Calumet River like KCBX Terminals. Fly-dumpers illegally drop their garbage just a block from the banquet hall, Medina said.

La Catrina could deter fly dumping by drawing more visitors and positive activity to the surrounding neighborhood, she said.

“Our impact there is going to be very positive, because there’s going to be people back and forth, going in and out,” Medina said. “It’s not going to be as it was previously, where nobody goes back to that particular end.”

Medina hopes her selection for the city grant will inspire other Southeast Siders to seek out opportunities that can help them continue the neighborhood’s upward trajectory, she said.

“I want my community to bloom and to show people there are resources,” Medina said. “Sometimes we aren’t able to use [them] because we don’t know how to.”

The city also awarded a $5 million community development grant this month to Revive 6300 to build high-end offices on the site of the Washington Park National Bank building in Woodlawn.

Other grants include $3.1 million to Demera Ethiopian Restaurant for a Bronzeville location and $250,000 to Kilwins in Hyde Park for a “chocolate garden” that will host community events.

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