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What polar vortex? It’s business (almost) as usual in Pilsen

Yadira Ramirez opened Panaderia Nuevo Leon in Pilsen at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday. She walked a half-mile to work after her truck didn't start. | Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

Yadira Ramirez opened Panaderia Nuevo Leon in the Pilsen neighborhood at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, just like she would any other weekday.

Ramirez, who started working at the Mexican bakery two years ago, usually drives the half-mile to work in her pickup.

But the truck didn’t start Wednesday morning. So, she walked.

“Yeah, it was cold. I couldn’t feel my fingers after awhile,” she said in Spanish.

A worker at Panaderia Nuevo Leon moving a tray of sweet bread. | Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times
A worker at Panaderia Nuevo Leon moving a tray of sweet bread. | Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

Artemio Casas, manager of Panaderia Nuevo Leon and son-in-law to owner Abel Sauceda, said keeping the bakery open on Wednesday was about much more than his bottom line.

“We thought about closing for the day, but we didn’t have enough time to notify our customers,” Casas said. “We have a lot of people, especially older folks, who come from far away to get their bread and a cup of coffee. I didn’t want them to think we were open only to show up and see that we’re closed.”

While some businesses in Pilsen closed for the day and others closed early, Ramirez and dozens of other workers kept a handful of the neighborhood’s staples running smoothly during the bitter cold.

Ramirez said customers were showing up but business was slower than usual Wednesday.

Maria Beltran, a loyal customer for more than 20 years, walked into the bakery around 11 a.m. and let out a big sigh of relief.

Asked why she decided to brave the cold, Beltran kept it short: “I got a craving for some bread.”

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Maria Beltran paying for her bolillos and conchas at Panaderia Nuevo Leon on Wednesday. | Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times
Maria Beltran paying for her bolillos and conchas at Panaderia Nuevo Leon on Wednesday. | Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

Pablo Camacho, 78, had a doctor’s appointment at 8 a.m. at the University of Illinois Medical Center. He then went to La Casa del Pueblo, a grocery store on Blue Island Avenue, to stock up for the rest of the week.

Camacho said he tried not to think about the cold too much.

“If you start thinking about how cold it is, you’re not gonna get up and do what you gotta do,” he said in Spanish.

Pablo Camacho, 78, on his way home after a trip to the grocery store on Wednesday in Pilsen. | Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times
Pablo Camacho, 78, on his way home after a trip to the grocery store on Wednesday in Pilsen. | Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

At Cafe Jumpin Bean, a crew of regulars took up their usual seats at the counter.

Bobby Davila, a 62-year-old mariachi musician who lives in Little Village, said making the trek to Jumpin Bean on the bus was a no-brainer.

“There’s not much else to do today but drink a cup of coffee and forget about the cold for a bit,” he said. “I called ahead to see if they were open and they said they were, so I came on over.”

Bobby Davila scrolls through his phone at Cafe Jumping Bean in Pilsen on Wednesday morning. | Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times
Bobby Davila scrolls through his phone at Cafe Jumping Bean in Pilsen on Wednesday morning. | Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting the South and West sides of Chicago.