Owner of Cross~Rhodes restaurant in Evanston mourned by friends
Updated: September 12, 2012 3:56PM
EVANSTON — Until he started winding down a bit in recent years, Cross~Rhodes owner Jeffrey Russell was a familiar sight at his Evanston restaurant.
He often occupied a seat at a front table right by the door. He dubbed Fridays “Hawaiian shirt Fridays,” wearing a loose-fitting patterned shirt to match, and his easy smile and laidback approach was a trademark of the cozy 19-table Greek-style restaurant, which started in the Chicago-Main area 28 years ago.
“He was a great people person,” said Jake Frenzel, Cross~Rhodes manager. Russell, with a newspaper spread out, would summon staff over to take a break or just talk.
“He was always there to listen and give advice, always there to lend an ear,” Frenzel said.
Friends, family members and customers were in shock today at Russell’s untimely death, apparently the result of a fall from his home above the restaurant, at 913 Chicago Ave., sometime Monday night.
A memorial service and tribute to the popular restaurant owner is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, at the restaurant.
Firefighters received a call about 10:22 p.m. Monday of an accident at 913 Chicago Ave. after Russell apparently fell about a dozen feet to the yard from the second-floor landing that ran from his home to the back of the restaurant.
“We don’t know if he had a heart attack or he tripped,” said his daughter, Maria Kathryn Russell, who rushed over.
Conscious at first but bleeding, Russell was transported by Evanston paramedics to St. Francis Hospital, 355 Ridge.
His condition deteriorated and he was pronounced dead at 3:57 a.m. Tuesday. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death accidental, as a result of a fall in which Russell sustained multiple injuries.
Born in Detroit, Mich., Russell attended Michigan schools, and graduated from Michigan State with a degree in hotel and restaurant management, according to his daughter.
In Chicago, he started and managed a packing company that specialized in frozen pies and quiches and carrot cakes.
After selling the company to Vienna Beef in 1978, he managed different restaurants in the area before opening Cross~Rhodes on Dec. 1, 1984.
The 67-seat restaurant was one of the first quality authentic Greek-style restaurants in the area and provided the Chicago-Main district with a definite boost.
It was a family-type restaurant. ‘The people have been with his, I would say 80 percent of them anywhere from 20 to 28 years,” said Maria, who now runs the restaurant with Frenzel. “My two main cooks who started with him are still with us.”
She said her father knew all the regulars — not by name and face but by face and food, she said. One regular, a woman, always ordered the restaurant’s trademark Pita with Greek Salad.
His daughter persuaded him to remodel the restaurant six months ago. Before the remodeling, “it was the same as in 1984,’’ she said.
In 2011, the Rotary Club of Evanston recognized Russell for a special award, based on ethics and high character, his daughter said.
Russell is survived by his daughter, Maria Kathryn Russell; brother Jack Russell and sister-in-law Vielka Russell, residents of Long Beach; and one sister, Jane Russell, of Palm Springs, Calif.