Buena Vista celebrates 15 years in a changing landscape | Food & Drink Feature | Chicago Reader

Buena Vista celebrates 15 years in a changing landscape 

The family-owned restaurant remains in East Lakeview as the number of Mexican immigrants has gone down and rents have gone up.

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Buena Vista used to be just a taqueria, but when Benjamin Ramirez bought the space he expanded into a full dinner menu. - GONZALO GUZMAN
  • Buena Vista used to be just a taqueria, but when Benjamin Ramirez bought the space he expanded into a full dinner menu.
  • Gonzalo Guzman

It's Taco Tuesday, the busiest night of the week at Buena Vista in East Lakeview. The line is out the door and the small dining room is packed with customers as the smell of chorizo and homemade tortillas fills the air. In the back of the house, members of the Ramirez family operate in organized chaos as they navigate the narrow walkways of the kitchen, putting out order after order and never stopping to take a break.

The family-owned Mexican restaurant celebrated its 15th anniversary in the space on April 17. When they first opened, however, the neighborhood and clientele were very different. Back then, most of the customers were Mexican, but little by little they started moving out as the neighborhood changed and rents increased, says owner Benjamin Ramirez, 54. "Now it is like more people that make more money. They make more money, they can afford to pay more for the dinners, and they like to go out."

Ramirez got his start in the industry as a dishwasher in the 80s after moving to Chicago from Mexico. While he was learning how to fill roles in both the front and the back of the house, he was also saving money to open his own restaurant. In 2004 he put a down payment on the restaurant that would become Buena Vista. The space was originally just a taqueria, but Ramirez expanded to a full menu that includes traditional Mexican fare as well as a few special family recipes.

Buena Vista has always been family owned and operated. The first few years, Ramirez continued working his other restaurant job while his wife, Maria, helped run the business with his brothers.

"I spent three years working for somebody else after we open and then work starts growing and I have to work in the morning at Buena Vista and then run to my regular job," says Ramirez. "I used to be working six days and then start working five, four, three until I tell the owner it's time to go. It's too much work, I can't handle it."

Ramirez's two children, Edwin and Yvette, were just ten and eight when Buena Vista opened and spent many of those early years at the restaurant, doing homework and watching TV until they were old enough to help out. They both now work the front of the house while their parents handle the kitchen. Recently Edwin took on additional responsibilities after his views on the family business shifted postcollege.

"I didn't really start appreciating it till I was in college," says Edwin, 25. "At the end of my college career I decided to just graduate with a history degree instead of going into education so I could start pursuing the business and entrepreneurship instead of a role of a teacher."

Currently Edwin helps with the accounting and marketing side of Buena Vista as he works on implementing new ideas and modernizing the business, marking the next generation’s commitment to carrying the business forward for the next 15 years and beyond.  v

Buena Vista, 3147 N. Broadway, celebrated its 15th anniversary on April 17. - GONZALO GUZMAN
  • Buena Vista, 3147 N. Broadway, celebrated its 15th anniversary on April 17.
  • Gonzalo Guzman
Maria Ramirez, whose husband, Benjamin, founded Buena Vista, works alongside longtime employee Ricarda, who’s been with the restaurant for 13 years. - GONZALO GUZMAN
  • Maria Ramirez, whose husband, Benjamin, founded Buena Vista, works alongside longtime employee Ricarda, who’s been with the restaurant for 13 years.
  • Gonzalo Guzman
Maria makes tortillas from scratch. - GONZALO GUZMAN
  • Maria makes tortillas from scratch.
  • Gonzalo Guzman
Avocados are prepped for guacamole. - GONZALO GUZMAN
  • Avocados are prepped for guacamole.
  • Gonzalo Guzman
Yvette Ramirez, 22, takes a customer's order during the Taco Tuesday dinner rush. The Ramirez children work the front of the house while their parents cover the kitchen. - GONZALO GUZMAN
  • Yvette Ramirez, 22, takes a customer's order during the Taco Tuesday dinner rush. The Ramirez children work the front of the house while their parents cover the kitchen.
  • Gonzalo Guzman
Yvette squeezes by her father, Benjamin. The kitchen’s walkways are narrow, but they rarely slow down the family during the dinner rush. - GONZALO GUZMAN
  • Yvette squeezes by her father, Benjamin. The kitchen’s walkways are narrow, but they rarely slow down the family during the dinner rush.
  • Gonzalo Guzman
Benjamin pushes past his wife, Maria, in the kitchen. - GONZALO GUZMAN
  • Benjamin pushes past his wife, Maria, in the kitchen.
  • Gonzalo Guzman
Yvette processes a carryout order. - GONZALO GUZMAN
  • Yvette processes a carryout order.
  • Gonzalo Guzman
Taco Tuesday is the busiest night of the week for Buena Vista and requires everyone to work together to keep up with the orders. - GONZALO GUZMAN
  • Taco Tuesday is the busiest night of the week for Buena Vista and requires everyone to work together to keep up with the orders.
  • Gonzalo Guzman
Cook Sandra gets ready to clean the kitchen. - GONZALO GUZMAN
  • Cook Sandra gets ready to clean the kitchen.
  • Gonzalo Guzman
Benjamin does dishes in the back of the kitchen; he worked various roles in both the front and back of the house of other restaurants before opening Buena Vista in 2004. - GONZALO GUZMAN
  • Benjamin does dishes in the back of the kitchen; he worked various roles in both the front and back of the house of other restaurants before opening Buena Vista in 2004.
  • Gonzalo Guzman
Edwin Ramirez, 25, cleans up after a busy dinner service. He started working at the restaurant in high school and gained an appreciation for the family business in college. - GONZALO GUZMAN
  • Edwin Ramirez, 25, cleans up after a busy dinner service. He started working at the restaurant in high school and gained an appreciation for the family business in college.
  • Gonzalo Guzman
Edwin closes at the end of the night. - GONZALO GUZMAN
  • Edwin closes at the end of the night.
  • Gonzalo Guzman

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