Belmont Snack Shop to close permanently after fire: ‘The memories keep you going’

A grease fire that started in the restaurant’s kitchen quickly tore through the entire building Oct. 8.

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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 Oct. 10, 2020.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The Belmont Snack Shop will close permanently after a fire destroyed the Avondale restaurant earlier this month, owner Nelson Rodriguez announced in an emotional Facebook post Thursday afternoon.

“After a lot of thought and consideration and looking at every angle possible it is apparent to all of us at the Snack Shop that rebuilding and attempting to bring Belmont Snack Shop back to the community is not in the stars,” Rodriguez wrote.

A grease fire started in the restaurant’s kitchen about 7:50 p.m. Oct. 8 and quickly tore through the entire building, 3407 W. Belmont Ave., including the upstairs apartment where Rodriguez had lived with his family for 16 years.

While Rodriguez and his family escaped uninjured, they lost the vast majority of their personal belongings, along with everything in the 24-hour diner that he and business partner Paul Schiller bought from his parents in 2011.

Thursday’s Facebook post gave Rodriguez an opportunity to “stroll down memory lane” and say goodbye to people in the Avondale and Logan Square communities that frequented the Belmont Snack Shop. In the post, Rodriguez thanked the longtime employees who kept the restaurant going since the 1980s and reminisced about the “Southern Special” he ate two hours after the birth of his daughter, as his mother peppered him with questions about her first granddaughter.

“We got away with the memories and that’s all that really matters at this point,” Rodriguez told the Chicago Sun-Times Thursday. “Take it from someone who lost about 94% of his possessions two weeks ago, the memories keep you going.”

Rodriguez said that he, Schiller and their senior cook, Oliver Royal, discussed reopening the Belmont Snack Shop but decided that in the time of COVID-19, starting from scratch would be too difficult.

“If this was pre-COVID, the answer would be 100% yes, but at this point right now, it’s become apparent that we were struggling to survive than actually prosper,” Rodriguez said. “With the limitations of indoor dining, the need for social distancing and such, it just seems a very daunting task.”

“With my personal life in limbo, due to losing to the apartment, that is something I would 100% say no,” Rodriguez said. “However, you never what tomorrow brings.”

Rodriguez and his family are staying with relatives as they search for a new place to live, Rodriguez said. A GoFundMe campaign started by his daughter to help the family and business find a new home had raised more than $7,000 of its stated $10,000 goal as of Thursday evening.

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