George G. Bannos helped people enjoy the spice of life.
With his brother Jimmy Bannos, he was partners in the Heaven on Seven restaurants — lined with hundreds of bottles of hot sauce — on Wabash Avenue and in Naperville. They’re known for their gumbo, po-boys, shrimp voodoo, grits and other New Orleans specialties.
Mr. Bannos, 65, died of a heart attack Tuesday at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge after suffering chest pains. He’d been scheduled to have a stress test the following day, according to his brother.
Mr. Bannos was the smiling front-of-the-house presence, greeting and seating people and keeping an eye on tables. His brother, a graduate of the chef program at Washburne Trade School, works the kitchen. They worked together for 37 years.
“He was just trying to help people enjoy what we were doing,” Jimmy Bannos said Thursday. “We like to have fun. We try to make people feel as comfortable as possible. We’re Chicago guys.”
In 1980, the Bannos brothers and their parents opened the New Garland Coffee Shop downtown in the Garland Building, 111 N. Wabash. New Orleans cooking became the focus in 1985, when they transformed it into Heaven on Seven on the Garland’s seventh floor.
Their restaurant slogan became: “People who come back from Heaven all say the same thing … try the gumbo!”
“It grabs you. The spice does something to you,” George Bannos once told the Sun-Times.
“George Bannos was not only a phenomenal restaurateur but a dear friend who provided so much inspiration to me and everyone in our industry,” Chef Emeril Lagasse said via email Thursday. “He will be missed dearly.”
George Bannos and his brother often went on fact-finding missions to New Orleans, sampling the cooking of chefs like Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme.
He loved eating his way through New Orleans, Jimmy Bannos said. Some of his favorite Big Easy stops included Bayona, Brigtsen’s, Cochon, Commander’s Palace and Restaurant August.
They were third-generation restaurateurs. As boys, they washed dishes and cleared tables for their parents, Gus and Catherine Bannos. Gus Bannos operated the Pine Grill at Roosevelt and Western, the Corner Grill at 35th and Western and the Hearthside at North and Harlem. Their paternal grandfather, also named George Bannos, ran the Bannos Diner at 14th and Canal. And their maternal grandfather, James Malevitis, operated J&P’s in Cicero for half a century.
Mr. Bannos’s son Andrew is a fourth-generation restaurateur, now working at Heaven on Seven.
Mr. Bannos grew up on the Berwyn-Cicero border and attended Morton East High School.
In addition to his son and brother, Mr. Bannos is survived by Patty, his wife of 36 years, and a daughter, Alexis. Visitation will be from 10 a.m. Friday until 11 a.m., when a service will be held at Saints Peter & Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview.