Food & Drink

Well-known Cedar Rapids chef Basil Hadjis dies at 62

Operated Vernon Inn; more recently chef at Mount Vernon Road Hy-Vee

Basil Hadjis of Cedar Rapids votes behind a ballot box at Calvin Sinclair Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids in November 2016. (Gazette file photo)
Basil Hadjis of Cedar Rapids votes behind a ballot box at Calvin Sinclair Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids in November 2016. (Gazette file photo)
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For Basil Hadjis, life was about sharing three things: food, love and laughter.

That’s what his children and former co-workers alike said after the well known Cedar Rapids chef died Tuesday after collapsing at home. He was 62.

“He loved life, he loved people, he loved entertaining, he loved providing happiness in any way he could,” his son Theo Hadjis said.

Hadjis was known for his restaurant Vernon Inn, which was open from 1976 to 2012, and more recently as a chef at the Mount Vernon Road Hy-Vee, where his monthly Greek dinners regularly sold-out.

He spent his whole life cooking for Cedar Rapids. On his 21st birthday, he opened the Vernon Inn restaurant, known as the Greek Place, with his brothers Alex and Demetrios. The brothers learned their trade from their father Stavros, a chef in the Greek navy who immigrated to Iowa from Greece.

“He loved to entertain people with food. His passion was food and people,” his daughter Katie Gorman said.

Hadjis, his wife Lynn and Gorman ran the Vernon Inn together for years; he also opened Fourth Street Diner in the 1980s and later Sweet Basil’s Pizza Pie and Basil’s Foods before going on the work as a chef at the Mount Vernon Road Hy-Vee in 2014.

Condolences began pouring in to the store as soon as a notice of his death went up on the Mount Vernon Road Hy-Vee Facebook page on Wednesday, and store director Katie Good said people have also been sharing memories in person.

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“He’s a huge staple at the store. This morning, customers were coming in, and they were teary eyed and telling stories,” she said. “I knew that everybody loved him, but it’s been more apparent the last two days.”

She said his popularity was based on more than his food; it was centered on his warm personality.

“He does kind of a show in the restaurant, he’s in there with his chef’s station. That’s what people loved; he would go around and talk to them,” she said. “He wore the hat, he played the role of the chef.”

She said the store is planning to put up a memorial at Hadjis’s chef station, between the meat and seafood departments, where shoppers could often find him cooking.

Christy Heim, of Marion, worked with him as a server at both Vernon Inn and Hy-Vee. She said his sense of humor was constant; he was always telling jokes or playing pranks.

“He always had a twinkle in his eye,” she said. “He was mischievous.”

But more than that, she said he treated his employees like family, never forgetting a birthday and baking each employee their favorite cake.

“He always had time to talk to you. If you had a problem at home, he was so in sync with you, he could tell, and he’d do everything he could to make things better for you,” she said. “And he would always go out of his way to thank you when the restaurant had a good night.”

He passed on those lessons to his children and four grandchildren, who called him “Papou,” Greek for grandfather.

“The Golden Rule, do onto others as you want done onto you, was ingrained in us,” his daughter Amie Schumacher said.

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And she said he treated his customers as family as well. Some of those customers started eating at Vernon Inn as children with their parents and now take their own kids to Greek dinners at Hy-Vee.

“He really loved watching families grow and come to celebrate so many happy moments,” she said.

Good said his presence will be missed for a long time to come.

“He’s got a huge heart. He’s a great chef, but he’s got a huge heart,” she said. “It will be a really big void to fill.”

A wake will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Dec. 29 at Murdoch Funeral Home & Cremation Service, 520 Wilson Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids, and the funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. George Orthodox Church, 3650 Cottage Grove Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids. In lieu of flowers, the family is creating a scholarship fund in Hadjis’s honor at the Kirkwood Community College Culinary Arts Program and St. John’s Greek Orthodox Church.

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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