Chicago restauranteur Robert Magiet was driving across town one morning when he spotted a shivering tamale vendor braving the frigid January temperatures of the “Windy City”. He made a spur of the moment offer she couldn’t refuse. Rather than let the woman wearing many layers of clothing to keep warm stay in the cold all day—Magiet bought out her entire day’s supply—close to 10 dozen tamales, gave her a big tip, and sent her on her way.
Magiet loaded up the tamales he’d purchased and distributed them to homeless people. Pleased with the outcome of the morning’s events, Magiet took to Facebook to see if he could continue the trend. “Anyone know of any Tamale Cart vendors that will be out this weekend in the cold weather? I went to Yolanda near Humboldt Park and bought her out so she could go home today. I’d love to do the same for other Vendors and distribute the Tamales to our neighbors experiencing homelessness. Let me know of any leads please” he posted.
In the following days, armed with suggestions, Magiet bought up all the tamales from vendors at three different locations. And again, after generously tipping the sellers whose trade had been severely curtailed by both the weather and the lockdown, he distributed the tamales to people in need. Helping the hungry in his community is nothing new for Magiet.
After opening a Love Fridge community food pantry outside his TaKorea Cocina restaurant this past June, Magiet teamed up with the owners of Fatso’s Last Stand and Jack & Ginger’s restaurants to prep and deliver 1,300 Thanksgiving meals for the needy. After Christmas, he also partnered with Jason Vincent, owner of Logan Square eatery Giant, to man a food truck serving breakfast and lunch to the homeless.
He also partnered with his friend Taylor Hammond, owner of The StopAlong, a Bucktown pizzeria, to ask if he’d be willing to donate his kitchen once a week to help ease food insecurity for families in need. Knowing how much kids love pizza, Hammond readily agreed. “It’s like, I have a restaurant. I have food. I know people who have restaurants and food. Let’s help people who need food.” Magiet said.
Having seen firsthand the devastating impact the coronavirus pandemic had on his own industry, he feels lucky to be in a position to provide much-needed relief for those struggling to put food on the table. He says on average he purchases 15 dozen tamales for an average price of $16 a dozen. “At first they are in disbelief. They don’t understand why someone would want to buy so many tamales.”
Magiet plans to continue his tamale runs for the remainder of the winter. Pizzas are still on the table as well. “If somebody in our neighborhood is struggling, we all struggle. I’m not trying to save the world. I’m just trying to help people who need food. If I have the ability to go help somebody, I’m just going to go help somebody. To me, it’s literally that simple” Magiet said.
The food Magiet collects will be distributed to several Love Fridges locations around town, Breakthrough Urban Ministries in East Garfield Park, and to Franciscan Outreach’s homeless shelter in North Lawndale. If you’d like to help, donations can be made to Zelle at 773-807-0057 or venmo: @takoreacocina.