A massive fire engulfed a popular Pilsen restaurant Wednesday morning, destroying what had been a community favorite for more than 53 years.
Nuevo León, in the 1500 block of W. 18th Street, is one of the highest-rated Mexican restaurants in the city, known for their home-made tortillas and traditional fare that has been run by three generations of family members. But in the early hours of Wednesday, something sparked what became a massive blaze.
The restaurant’s owner Daniel Gutierrez Sr. said the second shift at his restaurant left around 11 p.m. Tuesday, and he got a call on the fire just after midnight.
Gutierrez Sr.’s son was asleep in the building’s second floor apartment at the time, but managed to make it out safely. The family’s two dogs were rescued by firefighters.
"I woke up," said Daniel Gutierrez Jr. "Something made me wake up and I looked at the TV and it was foggy, blurry and I rubbed my eyes. At that time, I know it was not my eyes, it was a fire."
The fire was a devastating blow not just to Gutierrez Sr., but the employees who he considers family. The staff could be seen standing in the cold and rain for hours near the scene to support to Gutierrez family.
It took Chicago firefighters more than three hours to put out the soaring flames, which could be seen shooting through the roof and back of the building. A neighboring building, also owned by the family, was damaged as well.
Gutierrez Sr. said he will rebuild the restaurant his parents started in 1962. Even the firefighters on the scene were heartbroken by the destruction, mentioning that they as well frequent the cherished neighborhood spot.
Investigators are still looking into the cause of the fire.
A restaurant in nearby Bridgeport, Freddies, posted a message to social media offering work to the employees now out of a job while the restaurant rebuilds.
"We had a devastating fire a few years back and know how horrible it can be for both owners and employees," the message said. "If any of their employees need work while they rebuild please send them our way. It's Christmas time, the worst time to be out of work."