Lucy Matthew came to Chicago from Peru with a grade-school education and wound up owning two successful restaurants that have served loyal customers and superstars including salsa queen Celia Cruz.
In 1979, Mrs. Matthew founded Fiesta Mexicana at 4806 N. Broadway, which became a favorite of people attending concerts and events at Uptown’s Green Mill, the Aragon and the Riviera. She opened a second location at 2423 N. Lincoln in 1985.
Her patrons have included Mexican performers such as singer Gloria Trevi and the bands Los Bukis and Bronco, said her daughter and son, Tania D’Agostino and Vincenzo D’Agostino Jr.
Though her restaurants serve Mexican food, she offered Peruvian specials as well: ceviche and lomo saltado, a delectable steak with tomatoes and onion served over potatoes.
“She was well-known in the Peruvian community” in Chicago, said Cesar Izquierdo, owner of Taste of Peru restaurant, 6545 N. Clark.
Mrs. Matthew died Sept. 3 at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital of complications from emphysema and pneumonia. She was 65.
She grew up near Lima, a descendant of Chinese immigrants who settled in Peru in the 1800s. Her mother, Carmen Isolda Laos, worked as a seamstress and sold homemade alfajores, a traditional sandwich cookie filled with dulce de leche. Her father, shopkeeper Julio Palacios, died when she was about 10.
“She only made it to elementary school for education, but was always motivated and ambitious,” her daughter said. “My mom grew up really poor. Her immediate family had to rely a lot on other relatives, so her goal, her ambition, was to succeed, to progress, to be able to provide a better life.”
In 1972, Mrs. Matthew and her sister, Nelly, came to Chicago, where they had relatives. “She worked at a factory Monday through Friday,” her daughter said, “and then on a weekend she would be a server at a restaurant.”
Mrs. Matthew preferred the bonhomie of restaurant work. “She would always joke around she wasn’t good at being a factory worker,” Tania D’Agostino said. “As we got older, we worked as a family. We started taking care of the back of the house. She would take care of the connection with customers, always with a smile, always open arms.”
Organized and detail-oriented, she was a good problem solver, even as a novice restaurant owner who hadn’t learned to drive yet. “When she first started she would pick out the vegetables herself. She would go to the produce companies in a little car — she didn’t drive. Her manager at the time, they would go and pack the car with vegetables,” her daughter said. “She would always pick out the best to make sure what she was serving was the best.”
Her fairness led to loyalty. “A lot of the people that my mom started with 30 years ago are still with us, the staff,” Tania D’Agostino said.
“She always helped everybody when she got the chance,” said Dr. Arturo Heredia, president of the Peruvian Arts Society, where Mrs. Matthew was vice president. “She came [to the U.S.] like us, with nothing. She worked hard and she was able to open more restaurants. She worked weekends, holidays, but she always helped people.”
When other Peruvian newcomers arrived in Chicago, “Some of them work in the restaurant with her, some of them she referred to other friends who have construction companies, painting companies,” Heredia said. “She was able to loan them money sometimes.”
Eventually, Mrs. Matthew’s mother followed her to America, as did another sister, Haydee Choque.
Her first marriage ended in divorce. She is survived by another daughter, Maritza D’Agostino, and her companion Vincenzo D’Agostino. She raised her family in Morton Grove. For her service, her family pinned a Peruvian flag pin on her lapel. A friend played the haunting folk song, “El Condor Pasa,” on Peruvian pipes.