WICKER PARK — If you've ever eaten at a late night taco stand just west of Damen after hitting up the bars, "chances are good" that Martin Perez made your burrito, said Felipe Caro, owner of Picante Taqueria.
"He was a familiar face, worked here 10 years," said Caro, who described Perez as "the head night [shift] guy" and longest employee of the taqueria at 2016 1/2 W. Division St. in Wicker Park.
Perez — who went to dialysis three times each week and had been on a waiting list for an organ transplant — died last week at the age of 41.
"He was the most punctual person. He was always worried about being late to work and would text me with his condition. I would say dude, don't worry about work, take care of yourself," Caro said.
Perez led a staff of about five workers, Caro said.
A Portage Park resident, Perez left behind a wife and two daughters, age 20 and 5. Caro said Perez died on his oldest daughter's birthday.
Caro decided to close the taco stand from Monday through Wednesday due to the cold weather and to give workers, many of whom were close with Perez and his family, time to mourn.
Perez suffered a seizure while he was picking up his daughter from school on Jan. 14 and was taken to an area hospital, where he was in a coma for five days.
"He was waiting like everyone else on the [organ transplant] list," Caro said.
Caro said a regular customer came by and left $100 for the family after seeing a sign in the window about Picante's temporary closure, which says, "RIP Martin Perez, Picante chef."
Caro said he is planning to put together a fundraiser to help Perez's family with funeral expenses and getting by during this difficult time.
Funeral services for Perez were held Sunday, according to a worker at Benson Family Funeral Home.
Picante Taqueria plans to reopen at 4 p.m. Thursday. Donations for Perez's family can be dropped off or mailed to Picante, 2016 W. Division St., Chicago IL 60622.