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Belmont Snack Shop’s future uncertain after devastating fire: ‘We lost everything’

After the fire destroyed Nelson Rodriguez’s home and livelihood — and an Avondale institution — his daughter, Alexis, launched a fundraiser with the goal of $10,000.

Belmont Snack Shop, located at 3407 W. Belmont Ave. in the Avondale neighborhood, pictured Saturday morning. The second floor of the building caught fire Thursday night, according to the Chicago Fire Department.
Belmont Snack Shop, located at 3407 W. Belmont Ave. in the Avondale neighborhood, pictured Saturday morning. The second floor of the building caught fire Thursday night, according to the Chicago Fire Department.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The future of the Belmont Snack Shop is up in the air after a fierce fire engulfed the late-night diner and left behind only charred remnants of the Avondale staple.

Restaurant manager Nelson Rodriguez and his wife, who live in an apartment above the diner near Belmont and Kimball, were cooking dinner Thursday night around 7:50 p.m. when they spotted smoke rising outside their window.

Rodriguez bolted downstairs to try to put out the grease fire, but he was too late.

After evacuating the restaurant, Rodriguez stood beside his wife watching the blaze and smoke destroy the diner that has been in his family for two generations.

“We lost everything,” Rodriguez said Saturday. “All the equipment and everything. There was nothing salvageable from the restaurant, and there was barely anything salvageable from the upstairs. It was a really bad fire.”

Belmont Snack Shop, 3407 W. Belmont, is boarded up after a fire destroyed the diner and its upstairs apartment.
Belmont Snack Shop, 3407 W. Belmont, is boarded up after a fire destroyed the diner and its upstairs apartment.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The fire was extinguished by 8:25 p.m., and no injuries were reported, according to the Chicago Fire Department.

Rodriguez assessed the damage during the daylight on Friday. The fire torched everything in its path, he said. Though some of his family’s personal items survived, including family photos, the vast majority of their belongings are gone.

“Our dog didn’t die, and my adult daughter is safe, and I don’t care about anything else,” said Rodriguez, whose family is temporarily staying in a hotel.

Belmont Snack Shop has been serving up greasy late-night grub for Avondale and Logan Square residents since the 1980s. It was first known as the K&S Snack Shop before Rodriguez’s mother and stepfather bought and renamed the establishment D&L Snack Shop in the 1990s, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez and his business partner, Paul Schiller, ultimately purchased the place from his parents in 2011.

Rodriguez and Schiller want to reopen Belmont Snack Shop. However, that decision will ultimately come down to the property manager.

“We don’t know if the company that owns the building is going to rebuild,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously, if they rebuild and they allow us to come back in and re-establish Belmont Snack Shop, we’re going to do everything in our power to do that. But as far as the fire, it was pretty much the nail in our coffin. Hopefully we can get resurrected, but I don’t know.”

The fire came just two weeks after Mayor Lori Lightfoot loosened the city’s restrictions on indoor dining amid the coronavirus pandemic — a decision that gave Rodriguez hope for his business after months of struggle.

“We thought we were going to survive COVID at the skin of our teeth... because the state and city just recently allowed bars to be open until 1 a.m. and we’re a 24-hour establishment so that was going to help our business,” Rodriguez said. “We actually saw a light at the end of this tunnel, but the fire pretty much destroyed that.”

After the fire ravaged Rodriguez’s home and livelihood, his daughter, Alexis, launched an online campaign with the goal of raising $10,000. Rodriguez said the money will go directly to the snack shop’s employees, Schiller and the family as they work to “get back on our feet.”

Rodriguez has been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support on social media.

“It really rejuvenates my spirit,” he said. “It helps me have a newfound relief for humanity because people are great... And knowing the people, I wouldn’t expect anything less from Logan Square and Avondale.”