Ilma Lopez

Photo by Tara Rice

Ilma Lopez, Co-Owner of Chaval

By Paul Koenig

Around the time the pandemic forced Chaval to close its doors in March 2020, co-owner Ilma Lopez received a call from John Woods, who was president of Full Plates, Full Potential and has since passed away, asking if she could help feed 3,000 Portland students who would be without meals after schools suddenly closed. “I turned around and called my friends”—Paige Gould of Central Provisions, Bryna Gootkind of LB Kitchen, Ian Malin of Little Giant, Jordan Rubin of Mr. Tuna, and Cyle Reynolds of Crispy Gai—“and between us we got it done,” Lopez says. That was the first but not the last call Lopez received to help others while she and her husband, Damian Sansonetti, tried keeping their business afloat. Chaval was one of the first restaurants to join Cooking for Community, a grassroots organization that has been having restaurants prepare healthy meals for people in need. Whether they would step up to help people in their community was never a question, Lopez says. “If we don’t take care of our home, how are we expecting it to survive?” In June 2020 she organized a local effort that raised $8,000 for Bakers Against Racism, a national movement of chefs selling baked goods to fund organizations helping Black people. After operating as a takeout-only restaurant with a skeleton crew, including Sansonetti and chef de cuisine Kirby Sholl, Chaval reopened its in-person service in July 2020 with outdoor dining. When winter rolled around, Chavel continued outdoor dining to keep its employees and community safe. In addition to a patio with heat lamps and heated seat pads, Chaval built private, heated greenhouses for diners to enjoy a sense of normalcy with their meals. “When it’s so cold and it’s snowing and people show up to eat outdoors in their ski gear, it’s a wonderful feeling,” Lopez says. “When you see people enjoying it in extreme conditions like that, it’s pretty magical.”

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