Since opening New Rebozo in 1991, chef and owner, Francisco Lopez, known to all as Chef Paco, has been a mainstay on the Oak Park culinary scene. Now, with a slightly updated name, N Rebozo, Lopez is about to become a culinary standout in Forest Park.
The longtime Oak Park location at 1116 Madison St. will go dark at the end of March. N Rebozo will open in the former location of The Heritage restaurant at 7403 Madison during the first weeks of April.
Now the passionate chef is moving his staff, art collection and repertory of 26 moles just a half-mile west on Madison St. to Forest Park.
“Oh my God, Oak Park opened up to me and gave me the opportunity to make my dreams come true.” said Chef Paco. “I am a little sad because I love Oak Park. It has been my home for 30 years. But I am super excited about being in Forest Park, too.”
Though New Rebozo has been in the same location since the engaging chef took over a pre-existing taco joint by the same name, he has never owned the building synonymous with his restaurant. Lopez has had a friendly relationship with his longtime landlord and notes when he signed the most recent five-year lease, he told the property owner he intended to retire when the agreement expired in spring of 2022.
“Yes, I thought I was going to retire, but I guess I was wrong.” said Lopez with a laugh. “Oh-my-God, everyone wanted to kill me and said I could not stop cooking. So, no retiring for me, I guess.”
As the community made clear it was not willing to say good-bye to New Rebozo, Chef Paco, feeling a renewed sense of energy, began looking for a new home for his Mexican restaurant. He remained focused on moving within Oak Park for as long as possible, but properties were too expensive, and most would have required extensive and cost prohibitive remodeling to meet New Rebozo’s needs.
A pre-existing relationship with restaurateur, Jacob DeHart inspired him to look at the vacant storefront well known for housing The Heritage from 2009 to 2020. After looking at the property owned by DeHart, Lopez decided to purchase the building. It took six months for the deal to fall into place.
“I waited so long and could not talk about it. The banks were difficult, but then it all happened in three days,” said Chef Paco. “The space is beautiful with a very professional kitchen. It barely needs any remodeling at all — it only needs a little Mexican touch!”
Staff members are excited about the move, and despite being scared to tell his customers about the move he was pleased that everyone reacted positively to the news. Though Chef Paco intends to “keep everything the same” he has given his restaurant a subtle name change to mark this new era in New Rebozo’s long history. After the move to Forest Park, New Rebozo will be known as N Rebozo.
“We are not so new anymore, so we changed the name to N Rebozo,” laughed Chef Paco. “The ‘N’ represents a new generation. The ‘rebozo’ stayed because my customers are my babies when they come to my restaurant and a rebozo is a baby blanket.”
Purchasing the building means Chef Paco can pass the restaurant onto the next generation. His son, Jose Manuel, is next in line to take over the N Rebozo legacy and owning the building provides security for his restaurant’s legacy. Though his son will have a hand in operating the N Rebozo, Chef Paco will be onsite cooking and communing with his loyal customers and friends.
“Owning this building means I can keep the name for my family,” said Chef Paco fighting back tears. “This has been hard work and during the pandemic I was scared I could lose everything. For all this time Paco has been the chef, the busboy and the waiter and I feel proud of myself. Money and business are important, but this is about self-respect.”
Chef Paco said he has written a letter of gratitude to the Village of Oak Park for its support during the 30 years New Rebozo was located in the community. He feels as excited to become part of the Forest Park community as he did when he opened his restaurant in Oak Park 30 years ago.
“The mayor of Forest Park personally called me to welcome us and offer their support,” said Lopez. “They are opening their hearts to me the same way Oak Park did all those years ago.”