By ALLISON MATYUS
Last week, Hyde Park lost a neighbor, a business owner and a friend. John Frangias passed away on Saturday, Jan. 21, at the age of 55.
Frangias was most well known for owning the Salonica restaurant, 1440 E. 57th St., since 1989, but he also at one point owned what is now Hyde Park Produce, 1226 E. 53rd St., Nathan’s Chicago Style, 1372 E. 53rd St., and the now closed Caffe Florian, 1450 E. 57th St.
“He’s always been invested in the neighborhood,” said Hyde Park Produce owner, Larry Damico, who Frangias sold the store to in 1991.
Damico described Frangias as a smart business owner who was great with the neighborhood customers.
“I was selling him the produce from a market and that’s how I met him,” Damico said. “We stayed partners there for a year but we remained great friends and did everything in our lives together. John was my mentor in the grocery business, but he was also like my brother.”
Frangias’ funeral was held on Thursday, Jan. 26, and it was then that Damico realized the impact Frangias had on so many people and the relationships that were formed because of him.
“We were all sitting together at the funeral Thursday and I would never have met any of them if it wasn’t for John,” he said. “Once you were friends of John, you were a friend.”
Vipi Purcell met Frangias when she began working for him. She worked at Salonica for eight years and said that his generosity for his friends and employees never wavered.
“An example of how giving he was is when I had a friend that graduated law school,” she said. “He let me use the restaurant after hours to throw her a big graduation party. We had balloons floating through the restaurant and he even let us go into the kitchen and we were flipping burgers and cooking food.”
Salonica was closed on Wednesday, Jan. 25 and Thursday, Jan. 26 so employees could attend Frangias’ wake and funeral. The restaurant reopened on Friday, Jan. 27, but something in the air was definitely missing.
Enrique Maldonado, the manager of Salonica, has worked for Frangias since 1989, and said he was a good man.
“He liked to talk to people and help people out…whoever they were,” he said. “I know all the employees and customers will miss him a lot. It’s a very big loss to us.”
Maldonado said that he and Frangias’ wife, Petula, will now run the restaurant.
Damico said that some of Frangias’ employees have been working for him for 25 years, because that’s just how Frangias was.
For all who knew him, there is too much to tell about the life that Frangias led and the people he touched.
“To come up with just one particular story about John is not what John was about…it was always more with him,” Damico said. “He truly was a wonderful guy.”