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Little Village
Dulcelandia; photo by Lucy Hewett

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In Chicago, every neighborhood is home to a diverse community of small businesses. This month, we’re celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by featuring some of the city’s most beloved Hispanic-owned businesses.

Meet the people behind a cocktail bar inspired by Mexican culture, an artisan market, an innovative dance company, a family-owned candy store, and more. These are stories you can only find in Chicago.

Julianna Rubio Slager: Ballet 5:8

Julianna Rubio Slager: Ballet 5:8

Neighborhood: Loop

What is the mission of Ballet 5:8?
I think it’s really important to make sure that we’re bringing dance into the public sphere. We love doing free public shows and creating a repertoire that has a broad appeal that will help people who maybe wouldn’t be interested in a ballet company otherwise to jump in and experience dance.

How do you bring your culture into the dances you create?
As a third-generation Mexican-American immigrant, I think it’s important to showcase the diversity and the beauty of what other cultures can add to the beauty that we already have here. Ballet is something that is owned by all cultures. It may not have originated in Mexican culture, but there’s so much of it that syncs right up with what we love and who we are and what our values are culturally.

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Pablo Ramirez and Teresa Magaña: Pilsen Arts and Community House

Pablo Ramirez and Teresa Magaña: Pilsen Arts and Community House

Neighborhood: Pilsen

What inspired Pilsen Arts and Community House?
Both Pablo and I were raised in Pilsen and Little Village. Especially for kids growing up in neighborhoods like ours, we wanted to expose them to artwork that they would normally have to leave Pilsen to see.

We started out running a for-profit gallery, but through the years it evolved into a community gallery and community space where we mentor and support other artists. We basically tell anybody that has a creative idea or endeavor that needs support or resources, we will assist in trying to get that done.

What do you hope to accomplish with this project?
We want the community to know that this is more than just an art space. It’s a resource center for creators and a creative community. And that’s part of the name, Pilsen Arts & Community House, because what do you think of when you think of home? You think of support, you think of consistency. You think that the door is always going to be open for you.
— Teresa Magaña

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Mike Moreno Jr.: Osito’s Tap

Mike Moreno Jr.: Osito’s Tap

Neighborhood: Little Village

Tell us about the history of Moreno’s Liquors.
My father started Moreno’s Liquors in 1977. It was the first Latino liquor store in the city of Chicago. And we’re really proud of that, and for 44 years we’ve put a lot of attention and focus on customer service.

What inspired you to open Osito’s Tap?
I looked at the neighborhood and Little Village had been lacking something like this for a long time. We had not had a bar open in this neighborhood for over 30 years. So when we first opened Osito’s Tap, a speakeasy craft cocktail bar in Little Village, we got a lot of positive feedback and publicity.

How does the bar reflect the culture of the neighborhood?
Little Village is truly special. You come here and you’re getting a taste of Mexico.
When you walk into the bar, you’re gonna get a little bit of that heritage all around — the music, the cocktails, the names of the food, the artwork that comes directly from a famous artist in Oaxaca. Everything is paying homage to our heritage and culture.

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Angélica Varela: Semillas Plant Studio

Angélica Varela: Semillas Plant Studio

Neighborhood: Pilsen

What inspired Semillas Plant Studio?
Semillas is ‘seeds’ in Spanish, and seeds were a big part of my life growing up. It’s a big part of my culture and basically takes us back to our roots. My grandma always planted her own seeds and would have us go to the backyard to get chiles or tomatoes or whatever it was. My family is Mexican, my grandma came here to the United States with eight kids. Pilsen was the first neighborhood that they lived in and everything started from here.

What has it been like to open a business in Pilsen?
The day of the opening, the line was just wrapped around the block and I could not believe it. I think that it made a lot of the people in Pilsen happy to see a Latina open up a business here. And we sold out of everything that day, it was amazing. I feel like I’ll never forget that for the rest of my life. The community just responded in a way that every community should. I think that’s why Pilsen is such a big and popular neighborhood, because everybody looks out for each other, and I think that’s what it showcased that day.

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Antoine and Arianna Scott: Atmos Coffee Shop

Antoine and Arianna Scott: Atmos Coffee Shop

Neighborhood: Humboldt Park

What inspired you to open Atmos Coffee?
We both love coffee, we had our first date over coffee. And I’m Puerto Rican, so coffee is just the center point of everything. It’s very much a culture thing for me.

We wanted a space where people can feel safe, where people can feel welcome. As we learned more about the coffee industry, we realized one, how very white it is and two, how uninviting it was. So we’ll be doing job training for youth in the community. Our goal is to be able to remove a barrier for someone of color that wants to get into the coffee industry. This is a skill that they can take with them wherever. — Arianna Scott

What has the reaction been like from the Humboldt Park community?
It’s been great. I feel like the community has just welcomed us with open arms. In the short period of time, we now have regulars, which is really cool. We’re becoming a part of people’s lives in the community. — Antoine Scott

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Javier and Jose Lopez: Casa Humilde Cerveceria

Javier and Jose Lopez: Casa Humilde Cerveceria

Neighborhood: West Town

How did you get started brewing beer?
We started on the second floor in the living room of our apartment in the Hermosa neighborhood. From the beginning, we pursued the brewery as an actual business. The whole process was literally like something you’d see at a brewery, just on a way smaller scale. — Jose Lopez

How does your Mexican heritage shine through in your brand?
We definitely love to incorporate our culture throughout the brand. For example, Nopalli is our prickly pear farmhouse ale. As kids, we would drive to Mexico every year, and we would pick up the prickly pears on the side of the road. Our dad loved them, and we would all just be eating prickly pears in the van. It was our way of incorporating our childhood memories. — Jose Lopez

Where can people find your beer?
We officially launched at District Brew Yards in 2019. Being part of craft brewing in Chicago is pretty cool. Everyone is very open and inviting. Whether it’s business or accounting or recipes, we’re just helping each other wherever we can. Usually in other industries you see each other as competitors, but the beer industry in Chicago is different.
— Javier Lopez

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Nadya Henríquez: ¡WEPA! Mercado del Pueblo

Nadya Henríquez: ¡WEPA! Mercado del Pueblo

Neighborhood: Humboldt Park

What is Mercado del Pueblo?
At Mercado del Pueblo, we have 15 vendors and they’re a mixture of races and backgrounds — African-American, Mexican, the LGBTQ community. We have vendors selling organic honey, terrariums, macrame, jewelry, vegan skincare, artesanias mexicanas, knitwear, and so much more
.

What is the goal of the market?
The Mercado allows vendors to test the waters to see if people are liking their products or help them come up with something new. Once the vendors finish their time with us, then the idea is that we can help them transition into a permanent storefront. 

What has the reception been like from the neighborhood?
And it’s been great for the community. It has become a gathering space. The mercados are a part of every plaza in South America, it goes along with what Puerto Rican and South American residents are used to having in their country. So it’s a perfect thing to have over here. It’s a way to help vendors and support the economy of the area.

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Eduardo Arocho: Paseo Boricua Tours

Eduardo Arocho: Paseo Boricua Tours

Neighborhood: Humboldt Park

What inspired Paseo Boricua Tours?
For a long time, Puerto Rican history in the city has been unknown or erased. Most people don’t really know much about Puerto Rican history at all, because it’s not taught in schools. I want to make sure that people know our contributions and show them the transformations that we are making in this neighborhood and how important they are.

Tell us about the Paseo Boricua.
Since 1995, when Paseo Boricua was inaugurated with the giant gateway flag, we’ve grown. In the six blocks, we now have seven Puerto Rican restaurants and over 50 murals. It’s one of the largest concentrations of public artwork. And murals are one of the best ways to tell the story of the community.

How do people react to your tours?
It’s usually an eye-opening experience. People are really astonished to see our efforts to create a very beautiful and colorful neighborhood that welcomes all and accentuates our Puerto Rican culture.

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Marco Rodriguez: Dulcelandia

Marco Rodriguez: Dulcelandia

Neighborhood: Little Village

Tell us about how Dulcelandia got started.
My parents are from Mexico. They immigrated to the United States in the 1970s and started Dulcelandia in 1995. They saw it as an opportunity to start bringing in some of their favorite candy and piñatas and some of their culture and nostalgia.

I remember being a kid and looking at all the piñatas and candies that were coming in from Mexico and being astounded by it. But it took a lot of my parents’ time away from being with their family. Once I became part of the business, I realized that my parents sacrificed everything they could in order to give me and my siblings a better life and better future than what they had.

What inspired you to bring the business to Little Village?
We expanded into Little Village because it was the center of Mexican heritage here in Chicago. Little Village has a very strong tradition of entrepreneurship. All the stores you see down 26th Street are typically small businesses that are owned by families. I think it’s a neighborhood that is open for everyone to come and visit, to explore and to support the local businesses and all of our neighbors.

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