Restauranteur Robert Magiet buys out street vendors' inventories so they do not have to struggle through Chicago's cold snap.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 12, 2021. It has since been updated.
Temperatures in Chicago dropped drastically in February 2021, resulting in a cold snap. With temperatures as low as nine degrees, those who work outside found it particularly difficult, including the street vendors. In light of this, restauranteur Robert Magiet decided to take action. He started making regular visits to street vendors and purchasing their entire inventory (of tamales, most notably) from them so they can head home to stay warm indoors. On average, he purchased 15 dozen tamales for an average price of $16 a dozen, CNN reports.
"At first they are in disbelief," he said in an interview with the news outlet. "They don't understand why someone would want to buy so many tamales." Magiet, who owns TaKorea Cocina, a Korean-Mexican fusion restaurant, "launched" his tamale project on a regular morning when he was driving to work.
When he happened to spot street vendors struggling in the cold to sell tamales that customers were just not purchasing, he pulled over in order to make his first "grand purchase." He shared, "What's great is when we visit vendors for a second time and seeing how excited they are knowing they are about to get bought out and get to go home."
Soon, his grand purchases became an everyday occurrence. Visiting the Logan Square, Humboldt Park, and surrounding Avondale neighborhoods in Chicago, he made street vendors' days and was motivated by their positive reactions. After he buys out their inventories, Magiet would not, of course, just eat all the tamales by himself. He spent the rest of his day stocking "Love Fridges" dotted across the city. These are community refrigerators those in need can use to grab some food free of charge. He also distributed the tamales to people experiencing homelessness in shelters.
The restauranteur also had big plans for his menu at TaKorea Cocina. In 2021, he served up "mouthwatering burritos, succulent shrimp, and savory Bulgogi." However, he did not presently offer tamales—something that planned to change. He spoke with several street vendors to develop a Korean-style tamale, which was due to appear on his menu. In the meantime, he encouraged folks to do whatever they can to help out members of their local community. This was particularly important at a time when many were still reeling from the economic impact of the pandemic. "All it takes is one act of kindness and others will notice and join in," he affirmed. "Together we can all make a huge difference in others' lives. It's never been more important to support each other."