IL Latino News produces stories focused on the responses to the social determinants of health. Economic stability means that people have the resources essential to a healthy life. Factors affecting economic stability include affordable housing; employment that provides a living wage; things that support employment, like worker protections, paid sick leave, and child care; and access to reliable transportation.
Bordering the Chicago River on the Lower West Side is Pilsen, a neighborhood rich in Latino culture and decorated with dozens of ornate murals and as many award-winning restaurants.
One of the many Mexican-inspired eateries is “5 Rabanitos” in the historic district’s West 18th Street. It’s there that Alfonso Sotelo, the first part of the story of two brothers, immigrants achieving their “American dream,” begins.
It is at the Pilsen restaurant that you will find Alfonso plating his favorite dish, Puerco Al Rancho: slow roasted pork with Mole Estilo Guerrero, Mexican rice, and green beans. A few minutes south, you will find brother Jaime Sotelo doing the same at “Chile Toreado” in McKinley Park.
Both men honor the cuisine that they grew up with in Mexico by offering hand-made and hand-pressed tortillas to regional dishes like tlayudas from Oaxaca.
The Sotelo brothers are two of the 1.7 million immigrants who call Chicago home. Many, like the Sotelo’s small businesses, keep Main Street vibrant, regardless of the economy, including when COVID-19 basically shut down the City.
“We have seen 4,700 new businesses get new licenses since the beginning of … the pandemic,” said Isabel Velez-Diez, in an interview with WTTW’s Latino Voices. “We’ve also seen the license renewal stay at the same percentage as it was pre pandemic. So we are very hopeful, optimistic that things are looking up and things are getting slowly but surely back to normal,” said the director of economic recovery at the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.
Still, inflation has been squeezing small businesses that made gains from the economic strain caused by the pandemic.
“I think one of the things that we’re seeing right now is the cost of rent, utilities, payroll, it’s going to continue going up and we’re looking at different types of businesses that are creating different business models that have adapted since the pandemic,” Pilsen Chamber of Commerce secretary Jackson Flores said.
Inflation has especially hit hard the restaurant industry. In August, the cost for consumers to purchase food away from home rose by 8.3 percent compared to the same period in 2021, according to a report by Modern Restaurant Management. Additionally, menu prices at casual dining establishments rose by an average of 9 percent year over year from 2021. This inflation at the customer–facing end of the restaurant business has primarily been driven by rapidly increasing operating costs – by as much as 11.7 percent. Worse, inflation isn’t forecast to ease until late next year. It is predicted to fall to 3-to-4 percent by the end of 2023, according to economic projections by Kiplinger.
For the Sotelo Brothers, one of 80,000 Latino business owners in Chicago, authenticity is on the menu and key to weathering any economic storm.
Citlalli Magali Sotelo, is a 21-year-old Mexican-American and a first-generation college student. She is currently a junior at Columbia College Chicago and aspire to be a bilingual or trilingual journalist.
Cover Photo courtesy of Chile Toreado