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After Fire, Nuevo Leon Owner Vows to Rebuild, Neighbors Rally to Help

By  Alex Nitkin and Stephanie Lulay | December 2, 2015 3:53pm 

 Around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, board-up crews were waiting for
Around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, board-up crews were waiting for "smoldering fire" to go out before they got to work, officials at the scene said.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

PILSEN — Hours after a fire gutted his family's 53-year-old restaurant, Nuevo Leon owner Danny Gutierrez Jr. had a message for his patrons: "We're coming back, and we're coming back stronger than ever."

As of midday Wednesday, Chicago Fire Department officials were still investigating the cause of the fire, which raged for about three hours before dawn Wednesday morning. No one was injured, officials said.

Gutierrez said his family plans to rebuild and re-open the restaurant "ASAP." How long it takes, he said, depends on how much permanent structural damage was done to the building.

"I think we're talking about eight months to a year-and-a-half, depending on whether we can rehab it or we have to do a demo[lition] and start over," Gutierrez said.

Fire Department officials and building inspectors have warned Gutierrez that several load-bearing beams have buckled, meaning that Nuevo Leon's roof could potentially cave in at any time.

Gutierrez's first priority, he said, is to start serving food in the smaller space his family owns across the street, at 1511 W. 18th St. He's also hoping to purchase the vacant space at 1514 W. 18th St., formerly occupied by Veneno de Nayarit restaurant.

"It'll be a limited space, but it'll be the same people, and we'll be making the same food," Gutierrez said.

Meanwhile, a Pilsen neighbor has set up a GoFundMe page to help Nuevo Leon employees and Fabulous Freddie's Italian Eatery in Bridgeport has offered to hire a few employees while the restaurant rebuilds.

The owners of Fabulous Freddie's know what it's like to cope with a devastating fire, Christie Bertucci-Vega said Wednesday. Her family lost everything when the 31st Street restaurant burned to the ground in March 2011, and didn't reopen until November of that year.

"When we had our fire, it was brutal, horrible. All of us get our income from here and our employees are like family," she said. "Like us, I hope all of their employees and customers come back, but I know when it happens it's just so horrible. It's Christmas time, the worst time to be out of work. "

Nuevo Leon employees looking for a job can contact Bertucci-Vega at the restaurant at 312-808-0147.

As of Thursday morning, the GoFundMe fundraiser has raised $1,990 for Nuevo Leon employees affected by the fire.

Nuevo Leon restaurant in Pilsen was destroyed in an extra-alarm fire Wednesday morning. [Byron Sigcho]

Early Wednesday, Ald. Danny Solis (25th) said he plans to meet with city officials in an effort to speed up the opening of a second bar/restaurant owned by the Gutierrez family across the street from the original Nuevo Leon location to make sure the restaurant's 60 workers are not out of work for long.

Opening the second, smaller restaurant will help keep some of Nuevo Leon's employees working while crews work to rebuild the original restaurant, Solis said. Many of Nuevo Leon's employees live in the neighborhood.

Gutierrez's employees, he said, were his main concern.

"No matter how much space we have to rent out, the priority right now is making sure these guys can keep working and feeding their families through Christmas," Gutierrez said.

Nuevo Leon has been family-operated since it opened in 1962. Over the years, the Mexican restaurant has welcomed a number of celebrities and local politicians, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former Gov. Pat Quinn, Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Sheen.

Nuevo Leon owner Daniel Gutierrez Sr. (middle left) and his son Daniel Gutierrez Jr. (right) post for a photo with actor Martin Sheen (left) and former Gov. Pat Quinn in 2014. [Nuevo Leon]

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