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PILSEN — A restaurant with a similar menu as the now shuttered Belli’s is coming to Pilsen next month.
Kevin Canchola and his girlfriend Jovana Torres are the duo behind Gracias Maria, a new business coming to 1850 S. Blue Island Ave. They’re keeping part of the menu from Belli’s, a popular juice bar that closed at that location last week after 10 years, when the owner announced she was leaving Chicago.
Gracias Maria will keep the juices, smoothies and acai from the Belli’s menu and maintain a sizable vegetarian menu, said Canchola, a South Side native. He also said he’s considering pulling out some family recipes for the restaurant.
“We want to keep as much of it as we can, while making it our own at the same time,” Canchola said. “We are definitely looking to bring some Latino flair to the menu, but also some nostalgia for me.”
Canchola said he was a patron of Belli’s for years, and was saddened to hear it was closing.
“If you would have asked me 30 days ago if I was going to own a juice bar, I’d say maybe,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t deny opportunities, but it wasn’t something we were actively seeking.”
The restaurant’s name is inspired by Canchola’s grandmother, Maria, who died about a month ago, he said.
“It almost smacked me in the face,” Canchola said. “I was lamenting over my grandmother, and I was upset with the fact that I feel like I didn’t spend as much time with her as I should have. So, the name just hit me and I said, ‘Why not Gracias Maria?'”
Canchola, who’s worked in the food and beverage industry for about 20 years, said the goal is to have Gracias Maria open by early November.
Belli’s was known for hosting community events for neighborhood groups, like meetups for Pilsen-based running group Tortugas throughout the winter. Canchola said he hopes to continue that legacy with Gracias Maria and become “a pillar of the community.”
“And I think everyone’s first experience in community is family, so while Maria might not be everyone’s grandmother’s name, everyone has a Maria in their life,” he said. “And Maria can be a grandmother, a friend, or just a sense of community, a sense that, ‘Hey, somebody’s there, somebody’s got me.’ And I think everyone can relate to that. And that’s what we want to be in Pilsen.”
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