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Claudio Velez, Chicago’s beloved ‘Tamale Guy,’ in intensive care with COVID-19

Claudio Velez’s condition “rapidly declined within a couple of days,” according to his restaurant.

Owner Claudio Velez poses for a portrait earlier this month at his Tamale Guy restaurant at 2018 W. Chicago Avenue in Ukranian Village.
Owner Claudio Velez poses for a portrait earlier this month at his Tamale Guy restaurant at 2018 W. Chicago Avenue in Ukranian Village.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Just weeks after opening his first storefront restaurant, Claudio Velez, warmly known as Chicago’s “Tamale Guy,” has been admitted to an intensive care unit after contracting COVID-19.

Velez came down with a sore throat earlier this week and after getting tested for the coronavirus, “his health rapidly declined within a couple of days,” forcing doctors to put him on a ventilator, according to an Instagram post shared by the restaurant Saturday.

“His condition is improving but he will be left with extensive medical bills,” according to the restaurant. “We are closing the restaurant until further notice to make sure our team is taking the proper safety precautions... We have been truly overwhelmed by everyone’s support and kindness over the last few weeks. Please keep Claudio in your thoughts and wish him a speedy recovery.”

Velez has been a cherished sight for late-night revelers in Chicago for years. He opened his Tamale Guy Chicago restaurant in Ukrainian Village in early August — and sold out in under an hour on the first day of operation, according to Eater Chicago.

The restaurant launched an online fundraising campaign to cover Velez’s medical expenses, raising more than $5,000 in under an hour Saturday morning.

More than 231,000 people have contracted COVID-19 in Illinois during the pandemic, killing 8,008.