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