'Food hustler' bringing Latin flavors to new Elgin restaurant

Beatriz Cardona knew she wanted to cook from an early age, often playing kitchen as a young girl and making "food" in her yard from dirt.

Fortunately for Elgin diners, her flavor profiles and ingredient choices have evolved, because she and her husband, Alberto, are about to open a much-anticipated restaurant in the city.

BeaUnique Latin Kitchen, 74 S. Grove Ave., is slated to open for takeout and delivery by the middle of the week. The Cardonas initially planned to open last fall, but as the pandemic escalated over the summer the goal posts kept moving.

"We're definitely ready to get started," she said. They hope to open the dining room by late July.

"This has always been my dream, I've always wanted to have my own restaurant," Cardona said.

She learned to cook from her mother, who is Mexican, and from watching her husband's mom, who is Puerto Rican. Her marinades and sauces are inspired by that combination. "Those two ingredients mixed together, you've got that pow!" she said.

"I knew way back that I had something, I just never shared it with anybody," she said. "I said, 'One day, I'm going to get up and start my own business.'"

And so she did. In 2018, she made started making food and taking it around to local businesses, asking if she could sell it.

"They tried my food, and they told their friends who then told their friends and within eight months, I kid you not, we were all over the place," she said.

She decided to build the clientele first, then a restaurant. So she continued soliciting local businesses, taking orders and delivering plates of food.

"I was a food hustler," she said.

She delivered her Latin flavors to barber shops, office buildings, police stations. She even took an order to a culinary school in Schaumburg.

She eventually set up shop at Dream Kitchen in Elgin, so she could handle the increasing number of orders and catering gigs. Word-of-mouth started to spread after they rented a food truck to sell their dishes during a big softball tournament at the Elgin Sports Complex and then again at Nightmare on Chicago Street. "That's when things really started taking off," Alberto said.

They've parlayed that word-of-mouth into social media success. For a restaurant that isn't even open yet, they've already got over 6,500 followers on Facebook.

"It's not just the food, her personality draws people in," Alberto said. "She's a social butterfly."

They'll be open six days a week for lunch and dinner. Once they open the dining room, it will seat about 65 people. They're limiting their menu offerings during this early takeout phase of the business and will focus on the items that have been big hits with her longtime customers, including beef and potato empanadas served with tostones and her "famous" steak sandwich. Birria tacos, chicken flautas, Cuban sandwiches and more also will be available.

"We bring great flavors to the table, like no other," she said.

  BeaUnique Latin Kitchen plans to open next week for takeout and delivery. Beatriz and Alberto Cardona have operated a successful catering business under the name and their first brick-and-mortar restaurant has been highly anticipated in Elgin. Rick West/
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