CHICAGO — A popular Mexican restaurant in Pilsen was destroyed by fire overnight, leaving at least 40 people out of work just before the holidays.
Nuevo Leon, at 1515 W. 18th St., has been a part of the Pilsen community for more than 50 years, but Wednesday morning it was no more than a smoldering ruin.
The fire started shortly before midnight, and was quickly upgraded to a 2-11 alarm to bring in more firefighters and equipment.
In all, about 100 firefighters responded to the blaze.
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Firefighters battled flames until around 3:30 a.m., with fire engulfing all three floors of the building for a time.
No one was injured in the blaze, but the restaurant on the first floor and offices on the two floors above were a total loss. Flames also spread to a neighboring building. The Fire Department said two dogs were rescued from one of the basements.
Co-owner Danny Gutierrez Jr. said he’s thankful to be alive. He was in the building when it caught fire, and had just seconds to get out before the building was consumed by flames.
Gutierrez Jr. said he was dozing off inside the restaurant when he woke up and realized he couldn’t see that well. He quickly determined it was because the room was filled with smoke, so he rushed outside, and saw flames engulfing all three floors of the building.
He said waking up in time to escape was a Christmas miracle.
“I actually ran out and looked behind me, and then I looked at the rooftop, and it was all up in flames by that time,” he said. “I just said, ‘Oh my God,’ and I thought about, during this time, I thought about my workers, thought about all my staff, my family. Other than that, I went blank in shock.”
Owner Danny Gutierrez Sr. said his family has run Nuevo Leon for 53 years.
“The second shift left at 11 o’clock, and we got a call around midnight about the fire, and that’s all I know,” he said. “Thank God nobody’s injured.”
Gutierrez Sr. said he’s worried about his 40 employees who are now out of work. He said he does plan to rebuild, but it will take some time.
The cause of the fire was under investigation.