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Couple Weathers Tragic Accident, Long Recovery, to Open Grandpa's Delight

By Ed Komenda | September 21, 2015 5:09am
 Yolanda and Adlberto Avitia opened Grandpa's Delight, a cafe and ice cream shop in McKinley Park, in early September. The opening comes almost a decade after a truck accident paralyzed Yolanda from the chest down and forced the family to close its longstanding bakery.
Yolanda and Adlberto Avitia opened Grandpa's Delight, a cafe and ice cream shop in McKinley Park, in early September. The opening comes almost a decade after a truck accident paralyzed Yolanda from the chest down and forced the family to close its longstanding bakery.
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DNAinfo/Ed Komenda

MCKINLEY PARK — The bread truck rolled down an icy stretch of rural road outside Peoria, where Yolanda and Adlberto Avitia hoped to find customers for their family bakery back home.

It was Dec. 1, 2007, a snowy Saturday about eight months after Adlberto was laid off from his job. With a growing stack of unpaid bills, a business to manage and a family to feed, he was desperate to find work.

“Don’t worry,” Yolanda remembers telling her husband of 31 years. “We have this big truck. We are going to open new routes, delivering bread.”

That bread run would forever alter their lives, pushing the family out of business and inspiring Yolanda to overcome the difficulties of life after a paralyzing injury.

Earlier that morning, Yolanda loaded the truck with sandwiches, anticipating a busy day of selling bread in Beardstown, a small town near Peoria.

Adlberto neared the town before 8 a.m., his youngest son in the back of the truck with boxes of bread. In the passenger seat, Yolanda unbuckled her seatbelt and leaned forward to grab the sandwiches, planning to feed her husband and son before the long day of work ahead.

That’s when Adlberto hit a patch of black ice and lost control of the truck.

The truck slid toward the road’s right shoulder. Adlberto let out a warning: Hold on, we’re going to crash. Yolanda didn’t have time to put on her seat belt before the truck flipped over.

The last thing she saw, she said, was blood dripping from her head.

The last thing she heard was her husband’s voice.

“Don’t go to sleep,” he yelled in Spanish. “Stay awake!”


From a wheelchair in her apartment above Grandpa’s Delight, the neighborhood’s newest ice cream café, Yolanda takes care of business. She pays bills and makes sure her store’s inventory is stocked.

She clicks a computer mouse with what strength she has left in her frail fingers.

Almost a decade after a truck accident shattered a piece of her spine and derailed her life, the 53-year-old business owner does all she can to keep her dreams alive.

Paralyzed from the chest down, she remembers when she didn’t need help to get up and down stairs, eat food and change clothes. When her father’s bakery of 23 years boomed at this very corner — 2025 W. 35th St. — delivering bread to loyal customers on the South Side of Chicago and cities in 25 states.

Located at 2025 W. 35th St., Grandpa's Delight offers frozen fruit bars to neighborhood kids looking for a quick snack. [DNAinfo/Ed Komenda]

Those were the days her 60-year-old husband left for work every morning and returned with a paycheck. Before the family lost their bakery and suburban home, and Adlberto had to quit his job to take care of his wife.

Now, Yolanda Avitia sits at the helm of a business she imagined during the darkest hours of her life.

“We had some rough times,” she says, sitting under a portrait of Jesus Christ. “That’s why I had to do something.”

The wait 

For almost two months after the accident, Yolanda Avitia was lost in a deep coma.

Doctors drilled screws into her skull and attached a weighted brace to the back of her head to keep it from falling forward. The crash had crushed her C7 vertebra, one of the seven bones supporting her neck.

Adlberto felt his own version of lost, waiting for his slumbering wife to return to the world they inhabited before the wreck.

A doctor told him it might be best to pull the plug if she didn't come back in 24 hours.

“Leave me alone,” he remembers eventually telling the doctor. “I don’t want to talk to you."

The doctor listened, and Adlberto waited.

When Yolanda woke up, she learned she'd never walk again. She had no idea how long she'd been in the hospital bed.

The recovery

The accident took away more than Yolanda’s ability to walk. She could no longer manage her father's bakery.

The accident forced her and the family to shutter the shop. Unable to pay the mortgage, they lost their Oak Brook home and moved back to the city.

Feeling she had to do something to turn the family's luck around, Yolanda decided to enter a business contest at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The contest called for a plan detailing the ins-and-outs of building and operating a business from the ground up.

With the help of her son, Yolanda typed up a document telling the story of Grandpa’s Delight, a café and ice cream shop named in the likeness of her father, the man who started the bakery decades earlier.

Located at 2025 W. 35th St., Grandpa's Delight serves ice cream with fruit toppings of your choice. [DNAinfo/Ed Komenda]

She worked on the plan between all her doctor appointments.

Meanwhile, Adlberto learned how to clean the house, cook, pay the bills — and take care of his wife, who had taken care of everything before the accident.

“You don’t know what you’re going to do or how you’re going to do it,” he said.

When he felt frustration rising up, unable to juggle all the responsibilities, he went on the porch and took deep breaths. Sometimes, he’d cry, look to the heavens and ask his late mother for help.

“Mom, I need you,” he’d say.

His prayers seemed to help — until May 2014, when Yolanda fell into a second coma for more than a month.

When she woke up, she learned she had lost most of the strength and nerves in her arms and hands, which she had spent years in therapy to repair.

That didn’t stop her from working on her business plan. She later finished a document to submit to the contest.

It wasn’t long before Yolanda received news from the University of Illinois at Chicago: She won. Her victory came with a $5,000 check to help her start Grandpa's Delight.

“They said it was a perfect business plan,” said Yolanda, who, over the course of the next year, would receive more than $40,000 in funding from UIC and other agencies to buy the equipment she’d need to make her business plan a reality.


Grandpa’s Delight opened Sept. 3, welcoming the neighborhood to enjoy the latest version of the Avitia family business: an old school Mexican bakery turned modern café.

Open from 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. during the week, the shop offers soft-serve ice cream, coffee, frozen fruit bars, Cuban sandwiches, soups — items pulled from the recipe book of Yolanda’s grandmother.

A small staff cooks everything up with equipment bought with money Yolanda landed with her business plan.

Yolanda and Adlberto will soon celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary. In the almost four decades since they met, they built a family, put four kids through school, opened and closed businesses and survived one of the worst tragedies a family could experience.

Adlberto doesn’t wonder why things happened the way they did. He believes the tragedy happened for a reason: to bring his family close together.

Sometimes, Yolanda asks him, “Why don’t you go out with your friends?"

“I feel better staying with her than going outside,” he said.

Yolanda, who feels bad whenever she hears her husband’s knee joints pop when he has to get up to get her something across the house, said life after the accident constantly reminds her of the philosophy her family has carried with them since the beginning:

“Don’t ever give up."

Opened this month, Grandpa's Delight offers everything from Cuban sandwiches to ice cream to coffee and Mexican pastries. [DNAinfo/Ed Komenda]

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