At La Estancia, a Mexican restaurant across from west suburban Riverside’s historic water tower, owner Claudia Reyes remembers when she was one of only a handful of Latino business owners downtown.
“When I arrived here, the store across the street and I were the only Hispanic ones nearby,” Reyes says in Spanish. “Now, we have another restaurant, and another … we have increased in number.”
Reyes, 54, moved to Riverside from Cicero in 2013 because it was a “very caring, very united, very familial suburb,” she says.
Once home to antique retailers and Bohemian restaurants, Riverside — a town of about 9,000 people — has welcomed a wave of Latino businesses over the last decade. From breakfast spots to barber shops, the trend demonstrates the growth of the Latino population in Chicago’s western suburbs, beyond communities such as Cicero and Berwyn, which are majority Latino.
Riverside’s chamber of commerce does not track businesses by race, but village leaders say the number of Latino-owned shops has multiplied from a handful to more than a dozen.
Village Trustee Alex Gallegos has noticed the shift.
“Latino owners, entrepreneurs [are] telling others that there’s an opportunity here, and we’re so very grateful that we have built that reputation for a welcoming community,” said Gallegos, a lifelong Riverside resident.
This scenic suburb — designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the architects behind New York City’s Central Park — is one of the towns west of Chicago with significant Latino population growth in the past decade.
According to the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois Chicago, suburbs including Riverside, Western Springs and Broadview have seen their Latino populations grow by 60% to 80% in just 10 years.
In Riverside, local chains, too, have taken notice. Dulce Mami, a Mexican cafe and bakery with locations in Cicero and Chicago, recently opened across the street from the quaint train station.
“The community was looking for something like we are — a coffee shop, a breakfast place, a bakery store. We’re doing everything in the same place, so it was a great option,” said Andrea Torres, co-owner of the Riverside location.
Down the street from Dulce Mami, Amador Valenzuela owns Black Book Studio, where he makes animations for films and clients like the NFL and Lego. He saw a vacant storefront of a former real estate company and jumped on it in 2014.
“It was vacant for a year,” Valenzuela said. “For me, it was like, ‘OK, well, hey, I can use that as a studio space.’ ”
He added that many new businesses cropping up in the area are by entrepreneurial children of immigrants like himself.
“I think it’s just that kind of immigrant family, work-hard sort of vibe,” he said. “If no one else is going to do it, it’s like, ‘Hey, we’ll step up and do it.’ ”
This entrepreneurial spirit is why Latinos are one of the fastest growing entrepreneur groups in the country, according to longtime civic leader Maria Pesqueira.
Pesqueira runs the Healthy Communities Foundation, based in Riverside. She and her staff had noticed the new Latino-owned shops cropping up in town, most recently after the pandemic.
The move to the suburbs is a natural process for many Latinos in the region, she said.
“Some are buying their home for the first time, some are moving west because they were pushed out due to gentrification, some folks are moving west because they’re able to buy a larger home with more of a yard,” Pesqueira said.
She added that by investing in homes and businesses in Riverside and other towns, Latinos are signaling they are there to stay.
“The Latino community is very much a part of the fabric of the western suburbs, and a growing, thicker strand of that fabric,” Pesqueira said.
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on X @estheryjkang.