NORTH RIVERSIDE – At Tamale Hut Café in North Riverside, customers can order items such as pork, chicken, cheese, bean, crab, spinach or broccoli tamales – with a side of contemporary art.
Owner Jaime Flores, of Berwyn, constructed his restaurant with local artists in mind. He had grids installed on one of the walls so artwork could be displayed.
"I was always into the arts," Flores said. "I've always loved those people and hang out with them, and I wish I could be an artist, but I'm not."
Even though he doesn't produce art himself, Flores said he can still create a space for artists to showcase theirs. He selects an artist to display his or her pieces for three months in his restaurant free of charge. He doesn't make them pay rent or take a commission of anything they sell.
Flores has been displaying art on the wall of Tamale Hut Café, 8300 W. Cermak Road, since it opened in January 2006. He said his wall is booked for at least the next year.
His only requirement is that the artist agrees to hold an opening reception. He then asks for a piece of artwork to be donated for a drawing, with all proceeds being given to a nonprofit group in Berwyn. And while donating a piece is not a requirement, every artist who has been featured in Flores' restaurant has willingly contributed something, he said.
Groups that have benefited from the artwork drawing include the Berwyn Historical Society, Berwyn CARES and City of Homes.
"It makes me feel good that I'm giving back to Berwyn, even though the Tamale Hut is not there," Flores said. "But we support the nonprofits in Berwyn."
The artwork of Sandra Ragan, of Westchester, will be on display at Tamale Hut Café through June. A professional artist since 2002, she said the concept of offering free space for artists to promote their work is very popular among artists. This is her second time showcasing her work in Flores' restaurant.
"Jaime is unique. He's the only one who lets arts keep 100 percent of their profits," Ragan said. "He's a nice man. He loves the arts, and he's doing this to help artists out. I've sold some small pieces, but I've also sold a large piece. I've also gotten some commissions from people to do work."
Artwork isn't the only side dish people can get at Tamale Hut Café.
Flores has members of a writers group meet there every month. Authors are asked to conduct a reading and may promote their books. These events also include an open mic session where anyone may publicly read from his or her work.
In addition, Tamale Hut Café has a "Things that Make You Go Hmmm" Series. People with eclectic interests make presentations there every month.
The next artists to be featured will be Jonathan Lavan displaying pieces of his underwater photography, and Stacy Wazniak, an artist that works with wood. Their work will be on display from July 7 to Oct. 6. An opening reception will be held at 7 p.m. July 13.
In promoting cultural events, Flores wants to expand people's awareness of what's occurring around them.
"My goal is to get close to the artists," Flores said. "Plus, it dresses up my walls!"