clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Carlos Rosas, manager of acclaimed Calumet Fisheries, dead of COVID-19 at 41

He ‘loved telling people about the history of the store,’ restaurant co-owner and Mark Kotlick said. ‘They’d always ask me, “Is Carlos in the back?” ’

Carlos Rosas behind the counter at Calumet Fisheries after it was named a winner in the prestigious James Beard Awards nationwide food competition in 2010.
Carlos Rosas behind the counter at Calumet Fisheries after it was named a winner in the prestigious James Beard Awards nationwide food competition in 2010.
Al Podgorski / Sun-Times file

Carlos Rosas was the friendly manager of Calumet Fisheries, offering samples, inviting people to check out the smoker, and remembering the orders of regulars at a Chicago fish shack that has hooked critical acclaim.

Mr. Rosas, 41, died Monday after contracting the coronavirus, Calumet Fisheries posted on Facebook.

“Carlos was our ambassador. He always had a smile on his face and would greet you with a warm hello,” the posting said. “A big part of the spirit of Calumet Fisheries went to heaven yesterday.”

Mr. Rosas “loved telling people about the history of the store, showing them the smoker,” restaurant co-owner and president Mark Kotlick told the Chicago Sun-Times. “They’d always ask me, ‘Is Carlos in the back?’”

“He was a very kind person,’ said his older brother Jaime. “He loved the fish house. He loved people. He had a lot of friends.”

Mr. Rosas welcomed Anthony Bourdain to the eatery in 2008 when the famed chef-writer-TV food chronicler was filming his show “No Reservations.” After Bourdain’s 2018 death, Mr. Rosas said Bourdain “actually got to know the people behind the counter. It wasn’t like, ‘This is my job, I’m here to do it and bye.’ He actually wanted to know the people.”

Carlos Rosas, just left of Anthony Bourdain, welcomed the chef to Calumet Fisheries in 2008.
Carlos Rosas, just left of Anthony Bourdain, welcomed the chef to Calumet Fisheries in 2008.
Mark Kotlick

Young Carlos grew up at 96th and Exchange and went to Marsh grade school and Washington High School, according to his brother. He also studied at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago.

Kotlick said Mr. Rosas was just “a kid out of high school” when he started working at the now-92-year-old Rust Belt institution at 3259 E. 95th St. No matter how long the lines got, he kept things moving with efficiency and humor, he said. And he took on increasing responsibility until, Kotlick said, “It was basically me and him running the show.”

“If you needed help, he would go out there and help you,’’ according to his brother, who said he continued to think of others even after taking ill. “His last days of being at home, he was reminding himself he needed to do the timesheets for the guys” at the fish house.

Once, he helped shop for furniture for another employee who was experiencing hardships. Another time, a former co-worker who’d moved out of state lamented she couldn’t visit her parent’s grave.

“He went ahead and took flowers to her gravesite for her,” his brother said.

One of his favorite pastimes was playing slots at casinos and enjoying the occasional jackpot, his brother said.

Carlos Rosas was the manager of Calumet Fisheries, a Southeast Side foodie destination at the 95th Street Bridge.
Carlos Rosas was the manager of Calumet Fisheries, a Southeast Side foodie destination at the 95th Street Bridge.
Sandy Smith photo

Mr. Rosas’ health declined over the course of six weeks.

“He was so concerned about getting other people sick that he hibernated,” according to his brother. “He thought he was just having a hard time breathing.

“His oxygen level was getting lower,” he said. “He was getting worse by the day.”

Mr. Rosas’ family could see he didn’t look well. An ambulance was called, and he entered a hospital on June 12. Kotlick said relatives then had him transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he died.

Jaime Rosas said he and another sibling also took ill with the coronavirus.

When Mr. Rosas told Kotlick he’d tested positive for COVID-19, he closed Calumet Fisheries and instructed other employees to get tested. Kotlick also had the restaurant professionally cleaned.

The takeout joint might look like a bait shop, but it was named a winner in 2010 in the prestigious James Beard Awards nationwide competition, the Oscars of the food world.

Calumet Fisheries also has won the devotion of hungry diners who make pilgrimages to get the dozen or so kinds of smoked fish from the natural wood smokehouse behind the shack. Also on the menu: fried and stuffed shrimp, scallops, smelt, catfish, frog legs and more.

Usually, the smell is too good to wait until they arrive home. Customers dig into the fragrant bags of fishy goodness as soon as they get outside.

It sits at the base of the 95th Street bridge over the Calumet River. When “The Blues Brothers” was being filmed there in 1979, “Calumet Fisheries hosted the movie crew,” according to its website. “Remember Jake and Elwood jumping a bridge in the Bluesmobile? That was the 95th Street bridge, where Calumet Fisheries is located.”

In addition to his brother Jaime, Mr. Rosas’ survivors include his parents Eusebio and Maria, sisters Esperanza and Sanjuana and brothers Martin and Chevo.

A wake is planned from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Sadowski Funeral Home, 13300 S. Houston Ave. A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Kevin’s Catholic Church, 10509 S. Torrence Ave., with burial at St John/St Joseph Cemetery in Hammond, Indiana.