With safety as priority, Paco opens a changed New Rebozo

Worries rule-breakers will force more closures

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By Melissa Elsmo

Food Writer

As much as fans crave New Rebozo's Fiesta Mole dish -- a whopping six enchiladas individually topped with six unique Moles — they also visit the 30-year-old Oak Park restaurant to interact with chef and owner, Francisco Lopez, known to all as Chef Paco.

The effervescent chef is known to exclaim "oh my god" when greeting customers or describing his authentic Mexican fare. And now he uses the catchphrase to express gratitude for support during a global pandemic.

"I love my customers — they are my family," said Chef Paco. "Oh my god, my customers have helped me through this terrible situation."

Despite getting the green light to open for patio dining at the end of May, Chef Paco delayed the reopening of New Rebozo's patio and dining room until July 7. A letter posted on social media asking for patience while he reassessed options for reopening was met with both confusion and support according to the chef.

"I thought, oh my god, I am not ready. The patio is not ready," said Chef Paco. "People thought I was crazy, but I knew I needed to do more to keep people, my staff and customers, safe before I would open again."

New Rebozo is a family establishment and fiercely committed to serving all age groups. Additionally, Chef Paco expressed concerns for his long-time staff members who live with chronic illnesses putting them at greater risk for COVID-19 complications. 

Chef Paco took time to establish a plan to give more control over the dining experience to his customers and create a sense of calm in the restaurant. He replaced the flooring and ceiling in the entire establishment to give it a fresh look and a new level of cleanliness. The booths in the back half of the restaurant were removed to allow for proper social distancing between tables. Indoor tables once accommodated 95 diners and now hold just 35. The colorful Oaxacan art synonymous with New Rebozo still remains on display.

The restaurateur also embraced technology in a new way to keep his staff and customers safe. All orders and payments are processed through patrons' cellphones to minimize contact between staff and guests.

"The technology is here to stay forever, I think," said Chef Paco. "At first I was like oh my god help me, but now people love it and it makes everyone safer."

The back patio was also freshened up and reorganized to ensure proper spacing between tables, but the vacation feel is alive and well at New Rebozo. Red umbrellas cover well-spaced tables. Plants and art hang on the colorful walls enclosing the space. Originally the patio had a capacity of 50, but now holds 20. 

"I think they were nervous after staying home for so long," said Paco. "It was so slow at first, but we encouraged people to come in." 

Guests were impressed with New Rebozo's modifications. Positive word of mouth began bringing more people to the restaurant. Chef Paco is honest that most customers still prefer to dine outside, but more are opting to utilize the dining room.

"Visiting New Rebozo means you can forget your problems, put this situation out of your mind, relax and enjoy my food." said Chef Paco.

One a serious note, Chef Paco cautions that some restaurant owners and chefs "do not respect the rules" and fears the already fragile industry is positioned to experience a second wave of closures because of rising COVID-19 cases and a lack of rule following. 

"I anticipate a setback, but I also think about surviving and being an example for other restaurants," said Chef Paco. "It is stressful to think about the risks. I have lost weight because of it, but safety has to be more important than money."

Email: melissa@oakparkeats.com

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