HYDE PARK — Edgar Vazquez has come a long way since he was Madonna’s "butler," and now he's opening a taco joint in Hyde Park, his first solo restaurant venture after years of working for others.
Vazquez said he is about a month and a half away from opening Taco Station, a Mexican street food-style restaurant in the former Ribs ‘N’ Bibs at 5300 S. Dorchester Ave.
He said Wednesday that he’s captured the “savant” chef who worked for him at the former Forno Diablo in Lincoln Park to come up with a menu of 10 “old school” Mexican tacos and some new experiments like guacamole with feta or pomegranate seeds.
Vazquez, who was also a partner in the now-shuttered Moonshine in Wicker Park, has enlisted the designer behind N9ne Steakhouse and ghostbar in the West Loop to convert the old wood paneling covered in signed pictures of local celebrities to a trendier look with quartz countertop and reclaimed wood columns.
But Vazquez, who is simultaneously trying to help a Puerto Rican grandmother get her restaurant off the ground in Logan Square, said he’s slowing down and likely getting out of the business of opening restaurants for other people once Taco Station opens.
“Every time I open one, it takes a little piece of my heart,” Vazquez said.
Sam Cholke says Vazquez is looking forward to opening his own place:
He's also stepped away from his role helping organize Riot Fest the last four years in Humboldt Park (where he met Debbie Harry, lead singer of Blondie, and other stars) to focus on his own projects.
Vazquez, who grew up in Humboldt Park with a Puerto Rican mother feeding the family eggs and potatoes on a $356-a-month welfare check, now wants to build something he can call his own.
He got his start in the service industry at a young age as one of the Chicago Four Season Hotel’s first personal valets. His job was to serve the hotel’s VIP visitors, and he said it was a step up from his first job wearing a white suit and emptying ashtrays in the lobby.
“It was actually a butler,” Vazquez said of his job serving Madonna, Stevie Ray Vaughan and comedian Robin Harris during their stays at the hotel.
However it’s described, the job put Vazquez in close proximity to the biggest stars of the early 1990s and required him to keep a straight face despite what he saw of the guests.
“I saw Madonna ride a bike at 1 a.m. around the lobby,” Vazquez said. “She was very cool, and she was very generous at the end of her stay.”
He said he also was Vaughan's personal valet before the blues guitarist was killed in a helicopter that crashed in 1990 in East Troy, Wis., en route to the hotel after his concert with Eric Clapton at Alpine Valley Music Theatre.
“The band was just crying in the hallways,” Vazquez said.
He said growing up in Humboldt Park, he was nicknamed "Forrest Gump" because he was so lucky and kept turning up in the strangest places next to some notable figures. Working in a top-flight hotel and hanging out with an uncle who ran the Aragon Ballroom also made run-ins with stars more likely.
He said he feels lucky to have found a Hyde Park spot for his next restaurant, while helping Ja' Grill get established in the neighborhood.
“I love Hyde Park; I fell in love with it right away,” Vazquez said.
He said he’s been thrilled so far with the people he’s met in the neighborhood while working the last seven months to get the restaurant going. He said people will shake the scaffolding while he works just to stop him to chat.
He’s hoping to get lucky again when the restaurant opens and the fires are lit for chicken, beef, fish and pork tacos.
“Once they smell that oak smoke coming out of there, watch, people are going to freak out,” Vazquez said.
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