Ofrenda honors Lakeview shop, restaurant’s family


There’s similar imagery, skeltons, spirits, and sweets, but for many Chicagoans with Mexican heritage, the day after Halloween is a holiday that is more spiritual than spooky. 

And for a family with deep roots in Lake View, this year the Day of the Dead is all about remembering a very special life.  

Cafe El Tapatio in Lakeview.

If “memory serves” then at Café el Tapatio, the memory of a distant place is always on the menu.

Julie and Jose Parra emigrated to Chicago from Guadalajara, Mexico and opened the lake view restaurant in the mid-1970s.  

Julie and Jose Parra.

El Tapatio is an anchor of the block, and a reflection of the long-time owner’s personality.  

But after two decades in the kitchen, Julie Parra cooked up another business idea.

“My mom was getting tired of the monotony of cooking every day and wanted to get into retail,” Julie’s son Mauricio “Joe” Parra said.

Just about a half of a block south on Ashland Avenue, she opened a children’s boutique that became a dress shop that would help weave Mexican culture into Chicago style.   

Eventually Julie’s daughter Ivette Parra took over the dress shop with her own daughter Mia.

Ivette Parra and her daughter Mia at their family dress shop.

About six months ago, Julie Parra died of complications with Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 74.

But her memory lives on.

 “She’s always here with me. Always. Always. Always,” Ivette Parra said.

And it’s why this year, one of the most important Mexican holidays is more poignant for the Parras. 

Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead mixes Mexican mysticism and Catholic tradition. It’s believed the spirits of the dead are welcomed back to the world of the living for one day each year. 

Ivette Parra built an ofrenda, or an altar, for the holiday, a sort-of monument to the memory of her mother and other departed family members, complete with their favorite items to help them celebrate.

At the restaurant there is another altar with Julie Para’s  photo smiling down on the dining room just as she had done for more than 40 years.  

On the Day of the Dead, it is a legacy that lives on Ashland Avenue and on memory lane.  

 “As long as you can remember all of those times that you were with them, they’re always going to be alive with us,” Ivette Parra said.

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