Thursday was an all-nighter for Claudio Velez that led to 5 hours of sleep after making his method to 20 bars whereas making the tamale drops which have endeared him to Chicagoans for greater than 20 years. Velez began his workday within the morning with loud applause from clients sitting at Lone Wolf’s 23-table sidewalk patio alongside Randolph Avenue. Velez and his household launched their new operation, the Genuine Tamale Man, from the West Loop bar and later that evening he stopped at bars like Rainbo Membership, Hideout Inn, and Bucktown Pub.
The brand new settlement with Lone Wolf offers Velez a base of operations the place he can have a hybrid enterprise of serving clients his traditional tamales with corn husks and inexperienced salsa at his dwelling tavern whereas having the choice to bar hop afterward. The primary buyer at Lone Wolf lined up round 10:30 a.m. Thursday and Velez says he and his household made 1,500 tamales earlier than promoting out.
Thursday felt just like the previous days for him as a Chicago nightlife legend who fed hungry bar clients at taverns with out meals service. On opening evening, he mingled with clients, took selfies, and cracked smiles with bartenders who haven’t seen him since earlier than the pandemic. Velez hopes this new partnership with Lone Wolf will work out higher for him in comparison with his Ukrainian Village restaurant. A falling out with these companions has led to a pending lawsuit. Since a type of companions, Kristin Vega, was a longtime employee at Straightforward Bar, he’s staying away from that Wicker Park spot: “I don’t wish to begin any bother,” Velez says, together with his son, Osmar Abad Cruz translating.
Velez’s story has been effectively chronicled, from his rockstar standing, bother with town attributable to West Loop complaints, and the opening of his first restaurant. He’s gotten used to the eye and applause. He even acquired one other ovation in September as he was discharged from Rush College Medical Heart following a 35-day keep for remedy for COVID-19. Abad Cruz mirrored on how far his father has come, remembering seeing his dad within the hospital, staring blankly into house with the illness affecting his respiration and senses.
“I simply wish to him to do effectively,” Abad Cruz says. “He deserves this.”
The Tamale Man did check out dwelling supply final yr after COVID-19 closed bars and minimize him off from his buyer base. Whereas Velez says his dream is to ultimately open one other restaurant, visiting Chicago’s bars are what perks him up. Via the years, a part of the enjoyable was the luck concerned in randomly working into Velez at a bar. The Tamale Man’s tendencies and routes had been unknown. Velez nonetheless won’t publicize his routes and that preserves a few of the pleasure for old-school followers. Supply will ultimately be made obtainable in per week or two so of us can plan their evening round tamales.
Velez says he plans on visiting on one other 20 bars or so on Friday evening. He’s stopped consuming alcohol for a bit, agreeing to renew in late August to coincide together with his son’s birthday: “There’s too many issues with alcohol,” he says.
Nonetheless, interacting with followers stays his favourite pastime. Velez has been delivering tamales for greater than 20 years round Chicago after immigrating from Mexico. With the assistance of his son, they’ve been trying to find a licensed kitchen house to make tamales since final yr. They linked with a Fb group, True West Loop, who launched them to Lone Wolf’s house owners at Heisler Hospitality (Estereo, Queen Mary). Whereas delivering tamales to bars, Velez and his household would make meals from their houses. Chicago’s cottage meals legal guidelines are restrictive, permitting only a few meals to be made at dwelling. Objects like jams and baked items can solely offered at farmers markets. In different components of the nation, together with the LA space, cottage operations flourished throughout the pandemic. Although they’ve stored all of the recipes the identical “it’s lots totally different” working at Lone Wolf. There’s much less fear about fines from town, which one thing the officers threatened final yr in cease-and-desist letters prompted by complaints after Velez offered tamales at a West Loop park: “We really feel extra protected and at peace as a result of there’s a license to prepare dinner,” Velez says.
On Thursday evening, a buyer gave Velez a $100 tip, and he says he may really feel his followers’s love all through the evening. At 56, he says he’s decided to maintain up the tempo: “If I’ve the power, I’ll go forward and make it work,” he says.
On Saturday evening, a video crew from Vice Media will accompany him on his tamale run. He’s been in style with the media with TV and print interviews. Velez additionally says he plans on dropping off any leftover meals on the finish of the evening and feeding individuals with out housing who reside underneath Chicago’s bridges. He says he wants to provide again to the neighborhood that’s supported him.
“The individuals, they care lot,” Velez says.
The Genuine Tamale Man, inside Lone Wolf, 806 W. Randolph Avenue, open midday to midnight, Wednesday via Monday.