Carlos Nieto
Carlos Nieto

After earning 30 years of accolades for their beloved special occasion restaurant, Carlos’ (429 Temple Ave., Highland Park; 847-432-0770), Debbie and Carlos Nieto have decided it’s time to lighten up. In January, the space will undergo a face-lift and reopen as the more casual Nieto’s, named “so people will know it is still us,” says Carlos.

What was your first restaurant job?
In 1968, I started as a busboy at L’Escargot. In 1971, I went to Le Français as a waiter. Ten years later, Debbie and I opened Carlos’.

How many chefs did you launch at Carlos’?
Seven, including Roland Liccioni and Gabriel Viti. Ramiro Velasquez has been chef for 12 years. He started 25 years ago as a dishwasher.

How did you meet Debbie?
She picked me up in a bar on Rush Street. Mother’s. I kidnapped her, and her dad sent the federales after me. Jewish girl taken off with a Mexican guy. We are married 38 years.

Do you still wear your signature silver bow tie?
I try not to, but people ask about it. I keep it in a safety deposit box.

What is your fondest memory of Carlos’?
Every day, people come and enjoy, and I forget what happened yesterday.


Photograph: Anna Knott