Friday, October 19, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 11:00 p.m.
Featured image: Pedro Alvarez, the longtime owner of El Prado in Maywood, died on Oct. 16. | Courtesy Carlos Alvarez
Pedro Alvarez, who a half-century ago started what was likely the first first Cuban restaurant in Maywood and, according to his son, perhaps the first one in the Chicago suburbs, died on Oct. 16.
Alvarez’s oldest son, Carlos, said during an interview on Oct. 19 that his father died from complications of a blood disorder. He was 83 years old.
Pedro migrated from his native Cuba in 1971, Carlos said. In 1973, he had bought out a restaurant where he was working and for the next 45 years, generations of people from Maywood and beyond would grow in love with El Prado Restaurant, 612 Lake St.
Pedro and his wife of nearly 60 years, Lazara “Charo”, supported their three boys — Carlos, Pedro Jr. and Ernesto — through the restaurant. All three boys attended Lincoln Elementary School and Proviso East High School. And all of them were deeply influenced by El Prado.
“I started helping out there at the age of 12 or so,” Carlos said. “My dad was very dedicated to his work. He was very good at what he did. People praised his food for years and years.”
The menu, which featured authentic Cuban staples like fricase de pollo, frijoles negros, maduros and bacalao, anchored the Cuban community that flourished along Lake Street in Maywood during the 1960s and 1970s.
“In the building across the street from the restaurant, there were about 35 units and probably 32 were Cuban families,” Carlos said. “That community made it a little easier for us to adjust to a new place and start a new life. We still communicate and have reunions to this day.”
El Prado Cuban Restaurant, when the business was still up and running. | Facebook
Carlos said that his father left Cuba to get away from the social conditions and ideals of the revolution brought on by Fidel Castro.
“They implemented this law that said that teenage children who were 14 and 15 years old needed to serve in the military,” Carlos said. “My dad didn’t like that and he didn’t believe that the government should be going in the direction of a Communist state.”
Carlos said that Pedro worked for three years in camps established by the Cuban government for those seeking to leave the country.
“My dad was there for three or four years working for the government in order to be allowed to leave,” he said. “That was tough for us, because for those three or four years, we hardly saw him.”
Carlos said that Pedro made up for the lost time when he arrived in Maywood, where he would eventually own the building where his restaurant was located. He lived above it.
Carlos still has an insurance agency adjacent the restaurant, which Pedro leased to someone else roughly two years ago. Despite turning over management responsibilities, he still cooked for the new owner, another Cuban person, for another six months, his son said.
In his later years, Pedro gradually slowed down. Two months ago, Lazara, his wife, died and recently he had fractured his hip, their son said.
Last year, Prado closed after nearly 50 years in business, Carlos said. A group of new investors are looking to turn the space into a Mexican restaurant.
Although Pedro’s space is empty, his legacy is diffuse, Carlos said.
“My dad was a very giving and good-hearted man,” he said. “He was always determined to achieve what he wanted in life. That’s the consolation we have. He did things his way.”
A wake for Pedro Alvarez will take place on Sunday, Oct. 21, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., at Bormann Funeral Home, 1600 Chicago Ave. in Melrose Park.
A 10 a.m. mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, 1101 N. 23rd Ave. in Melrose Park will take place on Monday, Oct. 22. VFP
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Correction: A previous version of this article listed the wrong address for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, which is in Melrose Park — not Chicago.