Local business owner buys out street vendors, donates food to community fridges


Courtesy of Robert Magiet

Owner of TaKorea Cocina and Founder of West Town Feeds Robert Magiet with a local street vendor. Over the last few weeks, Magiet has been buying out local vendors and donating the food to people experiencing food insecurity.

Laya Neelakandan, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

As Chicago sees a record-breaking snowfall, TaKorea Cocina restaurant owner Robert Magiet is using tamales to support both people experiencing food insecurity and local street vendors.

Magiet bought almost 200 tamales from the first vendor he saw — and he’s bought over 10,000 food items since. As the founder of West Town Feeds, a Chicago-based organization that provides people experiencing homelessness with daily hot meals, Magiet drops the food off at community fridges like The Love Fridge, a free fridge network set up across the city of Chicago, as well as shelters and homeless encampments.

The pandemic has hit street vendors hard. Magiet said vendors tell him the pandemic has roughly halved Chicago’s pedestrian population.

“Supporting (street vendors) is just as important as supporting other local small businesses,” he said. “They’re our neighbors, and they needed support.”

Recently, Magiet said some residents have asked to join him in his efforts. Chicago resident Alex Chan heard about Magiet’s efforts through a mutual Facebook group.

Chan makes and sells trinkets, such as bottle openers that look like the Inauguration Day Bernie Sanders meme, as a hobby. He said he wanted to donate his proceeds to a good cause, so he decided to team up with Magiet to buy out a tamale vendor.

Some of the tamales Magiet bought and donated. Since starting, he has bought over 10,000 food items from street vendors. (Courtesy of Robert Magiet)

“I have a truck that’s capable of off-roading… so it’s easy for me to move through the snow,” Chan said. “I took the tamales and stocked the Love Fridges, some of which are in alleyways, and alleys are unplowed.”

Chan said he likes helping others “whenever it’s in (his) power to do so,” and has continued to help Magiet buy out vendors, especially in the wake of the recent snowstorm.

Chicago resident Manuel Jimenez said he connected with Magiet months ago when Magiet was distributing free meals to local teachers. Jimenez said he appreciated what Magiet was doing and stayed in touch because he wanted to help his community too.

Through social media and word of mouth, Jimenez and Magiet have found street vendors to buy food from so they can drive throughout the city and either stuff the Love Fridges or offer food to people experiencing homelessness.

“It’s a humbling experience,” Jimenez said. “Regardless of how hard something might be at the moment, there’s an entire population that people avoid and don’t talk about.”

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Twitter: @laya_neel

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