The food and restaurant industry mourned this year the losses of notable souls who contributed as much to the community as they did their own businesses.
Those who died include the founder of a salsa company, a restaurant reviewer, and restaurant owners. Here’s a list of some of those who passed away in 2021.
Garden Fresh Gourmet co-founder
Jack Aronson died at 68 in August after battling cancer. Aronson founded Garden Fresh Gourmet in Ferndale along with his wife, Annette.
He was often described as having a heart of gold larger than his more than 6-foot frame. Aronson was known to be a leader in the community, charitable and always having an infectiously positive attitude. Aronson also was active in the community and listed as a trustee for the Metro Detroit Youth Clubs (formerly The Boys & Girls Clubs of Oakland & Macomb counties).
The couple began making fresh salsa in Ferndale and grew the brand to become the country’s No. 1 fresh salsa. The Aronsons later sold the company to Campbell Soup for $231 million in 2015.
This Dearborn restaurateur was described as the “fairy godfather of falafel.” Rafic Baydoun died in January after battling COVID-19. He was 79.
Dearborn locals knew Baydoun for being a genuinely kind person, especially when greeting customers at his son’s restaurant, Rafic’s Falafel.
Born in Bint Jbeil, Lebanon, Baydoun learned and perfected his famous falafel as a teenager. It was in Lebanon that his love for hospitality and the restaurant industry was fostered, his daughter-in-law, Abeir Baydoun, 40, told the Free Press.
Rafic Baydoun moved to Dearborn in 2007 to be near his children and their families.
Rafic Baydoun’s son, Hassan, decided to open Rafic’s Falafel in 2014, and although the Dearborn location is just 6 years old, the restaurant’s history goes back to its humble roots in Bint Jbeil.
Rafic Baydoun spent days at the Dearborn restaurant, ensuring people had a good time and an even better meal.
Mudgie’s Deli, Detroit
It was Labor Day weekend when the news of Greg Mudge’s death rippled through the Corktown community.
Mudge, known as the “heart” of Corktown and owner of Mudgie’s Deli, died suddenly on Sept. 5. His death at age 46 shocked the neighborhood community and metro Detroit’s restaurant community. A memorial service that included a march to the deli drew hundreds of mourners to honor the late Mudge.
An Oakland County medical examiner determined that Mudge died of natural hypertensive cardiovascular disease. Mudge founded the deli in 2008. The deli closed for a while after Mudge’s death. It has since reopened with carryout only; the dining room remains closed to the public.
Former restaurant owner
Co-owner of the Lark restaurant, a highly acclaimed former fine-dining establishment in West Bloomfield, Jim Lark died in January of natural causes. He was 90.
Following his passion for food, travel and wine, Lark and his wife, Mary, opened the small, 50-seat European country inn-style restaurant in 1981. The Larks’ worldly travel experiences were often showcased at the restaurant through special themes or dinners.
Throughout its more than three decades, the Lark restaurant was award-winning and received plenty of accolades, with both local and national awards. It was often named as the best in Zagat surveys and several publications including Condé Nast Traveler and Gourmet magazines.
Rack of Lamb Genghis Khan was one of the restaurant’s signature dishes and was on the menu since the beginning. In 2013, the restaurant sold its 75,000th order of the famed entrée. The Lark closed in 2015.
Chef and restaurateur
A longtime metro Detroit chef and former restaurateur who once ran more than a dozen restaurants, Matt Prentice died in April after a brief illness. He was 62.
Prentice was best known for the former Unique Restaurant Corp., which was the driving force behind many metro Detroit restaurants, including the former Coach Insignia at the top of the Renaissance Center (now Highlands), Deli Unique, Duet, Shiraz, Morels, Northern Lakes Seafood and many more.
The restaurant group was later renamed the Matt Prentice Restaurant Group. More recently, Prentice partnered with Mary Liz Curtin of the popular Leon and Lulu in Clawson, opening the Three Cats Cafe in the trendy retailer’s theater annex building next door.
Longtime weekly columnist and restaurant reviewer Danny Raskin, who wrote for the Detroit Jewish News for nearly 80 years, died in July. Raskin was 102.
He had been reviewing restaurants in metro Detroit for more than 60 years.
Raskin’s weekly column was called the “Best of Everything.” It was a restaurant review column that included other news and shout-outs like birthdays and anniversaries. Raskin was known for being stylishly dressed, with his oversized glasses and thick white mustache.
The Detroit Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists honored Raskin for his longevity with a Legacy Award in 2019.
Dutch Girl Donuts
Gene Timmer, longtime owner of Dutch Girl Donuts on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, died Sept. 17 of complications from cancer. He was 75.
Timmer’s daughter Hanna Parrow said her father was kind and generous and always put family first. Dutch Girl Donuts closed in September. The doughnut shop was founded by Timmer’s parents in 1947. It was a shop where the cinnamon rolls were still hand-rolled and hand-cut.
Contact Detroit Free Press food writer Susan Selasky and send food and restaurant news to: 313-222-6872 or [email protected]. Follow @SusanMariecooks on Twitter.
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