AVONDALE — A popular empanada stand in Lakeview is expanding with a third planned restaurant that will open in the former Hot Doug's spot next month.
Renovations are underway for Cafe Tola Loncheria y Tacos to ready 3324 N. California Ave. for an opening in the next three weeks, said co-owner Victoria Salamanca. The restaurant will have tacos, an espresso bar and Salamanca's beloved empanadas.
Salamanca, who lives in Logan Square with her husband and the four youngest of her six children, said she'd coveted the corner spot for a long time. When the opportunity arose, "we felt we had to take it — because it would have been silly not to, right?" Salamanca said.
Taking over after Frank Meats Patty shuttered in December means a quick turnaround for Cafe Tola, Salamanca said. She and her husband thought they'd be able to open almost immediately, but decided to do slightly more extensive renovations to make the place their own.
The loncheria will feature a late-night takeout window with limited specials, along with a counter for customers to grab a quick bite. The space will seat about 40 people — slightly smaller than the planned Doña Tola.
Renovations are underway at 3324 N. California Ave., where Cafe Tola will open in August. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Southport Corridor fans of Cafe Tola will have to wait a tad longer for the much-anticipated Doña Tola, which the Salamancas hope to open at the end of September. Replacing Sensational Bites at 3751 N. Southport Ave., Doña Tola will serve Latin comfort food.
Renovations are still in the works at Doña Tola, and Salamanca said she recognizes the wait isn't easy. The Salamancas decided to self-finance their expansions rather than compromise with a business partner, meaning the work can take a little longer than expected.
"We've had amazing offers from people in the neighborhood to help, but we want to go at our own pace and just keep it in the family," Salamanca said.
Like the first Cafe Tola, the new location will feature the colorful artwork of Luis Rivera, a South Side artist who goes by the name Aniki28. His work at Cafe Tola ranges from an Aztec-inspired depiction of Kanye West to Chicago-themed portraits of artist Frida Kahlo.
Rivera already started work at the new Cafe Tola, which will feature a large, pop-culture themed mural on the building's north facade that already includes ET and Yoda.
Food from all three restaurants also draw inspiration from Salamanca's grandmother, who is the namesake of Doña Tola, for the nickname she shares with Salamanca.
"She's really the matriarch of the family, and her ability to put food together is not something that anyone can do," Salamanca said. "When I make dishes, I can't help but to think of her. It's all her."
Her grandparents immigrated to the United States and worked on strawberry farms, sold food at Chicago flea markets and eventually ran their own taverns and restaurants on the city's South Side while raising 12 children.
Cafe Tola will bring its popular empanadas to a new location in Avondale, replacing Frank Meats Patty in the former Hot Doug's spot. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
"She just finished telling me a story about almost having my aunt in the field where they were picking strawberries — I can't even imagine," Salamanca said. "It makes me appreciate her on so many different levels."
Inside, the restaurant will be filled with personal design touches from the Salamancas. Gerardo Salamanca, an avid toy collector, is setting up two repurposed high school trophy cases to display a vintage robot collection that will also be for sale.
In the center of the room, a communal table built from materials from an old basketball court will proudly display the logo from Gordon Tech College Prep, Gerardo Salamanca's alma mater.
The Avondale spot is a good place to grow the Cafe Tola brand, Victoria Salamanca said. Like Honey Butter Fried Chicken, she said her eatery will bring something special to the neighborhood.
"Hopefully we'll help fill a little of the gap, and I think it'll be a nice addition to the neighborhood," Salmanca said.
While Cafe Tola has Hot Doug's big shoes to fill, Salamanca said she feels they're up to the challenge. Hot Doug's rose to national fame during its 12 years on California Avenue, appearing on television shows like the Travel Channel's "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations."
In comparison, Cafe Tola's 400-square-foot stand in Lakeview sells an average of 700 empanadas per day, Salamanca said.
"I just feel like we have something special," she said.
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