Ten years ago, Ambrocio Gonzalez took a look at the stone building with the church-shaped turret and thought it will never function as a Mexican restaurant.
He even considered covering the cream-colored stone with orange and green paint.
But he and his business partner moved into the building on the corner of West 25th and South Christiana in the Little Village neighborhood – and it wasn’t long before people lined up, sometimes for two hours, to drink the Mexican coffee. de Gonzalez and devour his chilaquiles.
Those eventful and happy days have returned to the popular La Catedral Cafe after months of agonizing worry and uncertainty during the pandemic.
“I feel like we’re getting back to normal now. So we are very, very happy and very blessed, ”Gonzalez said on Friday morning, shortly after Governor JB Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other dignitaries used the restaurant as a backdrop to talk about the recovery. post-pandemic.
Gonzalez was on a dream vacation in Europe when the pandemic swept through. He cut the trip short and returned to Chicago in early March 2020. He was in quarantine for two weeks – but was watching footage from his restaurant’s security cameras. Almost no one came to his restaurant.
At worst, business has fallen by 75%, he said. Loans and grants helped, as did the demolition of the building next to the restaurant. This gave him space to pitch a huge tent for alfresco dining. He did not have to lay off any of his 17 employees, although he had to reduce their hours.
But the tent was $ 3,000 a week to rent and the heaters didn’t do much to protect against the cold, he said.
“We had fun, the employees had fun – because it was something new for them too,” Gonzalez said.
And now, with the reopening of the city, the lines are back in front of La Catedral. Inside on Friday, it was bustling – clinking plates, waiters scurrying from table to table between walls adorned with religious relics, some from Gonzalez’s hometown of Guadalajara.
“I love this place because it is so rich in culture. The staff are really friendly. The food, you can tell right away that they do it with love and it’s delicious, ”said Heidy Rivera, 26, who was eating with her sister, Josie Rivera, both making their second trip to the restaurant as well. days.
Business is going so well that Gonzalez plans to expand into another space at the adjacent corner of the intersection.
“I feel like a rock star when I see such a packed restaurant,” he said.