Hess, Richard "Ric"
Richard "Ric" Hess
Deceased: January 17, 2011
Memorial Visitation: Monday, January 24, 2011 3pm until
Ric Hess, 48, longtime owner of Sheffield's in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood and a respected local author, died after collapsing at his bar and restaurant Monday night, said co-owner Rocky Albazi.
Albazi said Mr. Hess collapsed while walking upstairs to his home above the restaurant. An autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday.
Sheffield's is a Lakeview stalwart with a reputation for great craft beer and top-notch burgers built over 30 years on the corner of Sheffield Avenue and School Street. In 2009, Esquire magazine named Sheffield's one of the 100 best bars in America.
Mr. Hess was the tavern's front-of-house face.
"He was more than just fun-loving and gregarious," said Albazi. "He was quiet when he needed to be, he was a listener but also a thinker. There was a presence about him."
Mr. Hess started at Sheffield's in 1988 as a part-time doorman, moving up to assistant manager, then manager. When the bar's owner died, Mr. Hess purchased the bar with Albazi in 1992.
"He made Sheffield's what a pub is supposed to be — a public house," said Greg Hall, Goose Island co-owner and brew master. "Where other beer bars sometimes have a reputation of being cranky and condescending, that was never the case at Sheffield's. He made it extremely friendly."
Hall believes Sheffield's was the first bar in Chicago to have a printed beer list, in the early 1990s.
"In my mind his was the first craft beer bar. In the early 1990s, when imports still ruled, he took a chance on all the crafts, and really pushed Goose and Bell's in particular," Hall said. "Anyone who opened a brewery regionally went to Ric first and got a (beer tap) handle. He was extremely supportive of the local beer scene."
In 1994, Mr. Hess helped design the menu at the Silver Cloud Bar & Grill in Bucktown, which focused on comfort food — turkey dinners, pot roasts and sloppy joes. Mr. Hess had also been the chairman of the annual Belmont/Sheffield Music Festival since 1998.
Several years ago, a server gave Mr. Hess a book co-authored by competitive barbecue champion Mike Mills called "Peace, Love and Barbecue." He became obsessed with serving good barbecue, and went on a fact-finding road trip to Memphis, Tenn.; South Carolina; and Texas, among other barbecue meccas.
In 2007, Sheffield's expanded its menu to include smoked beef brisket, pulled pork and ribs. Mr. Hess installed a $30,000 Southern Pride smoker, constantly tweaking his recipes.
"Looking at his desk right now, he's got all these barbecue books still out because they're still trying to perfect the ribs," said Bobby Egan, beer manager at Sheffield's.
Richard George Hess was raised outside Flint, Mich., later writing that he grew up on "20 bleak acres."
He read enthusiastically from an early age and cited Graham Greene, John Irving and Joseph Campbell among authors he admired.
In Chicago, he became an active member of the city's literary community, offering his restaurant space for book launches and writing groups. He got a degree in fiction writing from Columbia College and in 2008 his work appeared in an anthology of noir short stories called "Sin."
"As a writer he had this fantastic sense of being able to draw you in with his voice on the page," said Julia Borcherts, one of Mr. Hess's teachers at Columbia. (Borcherts is a freelancer for Metromix, also owned by the Tribune Co.) "He could start out at 100 miles an hour and keep you going. He had a voice like a modern-day Raymond Chandler."
Mr. Hess contributed a poem to the book "Cubbie Blues: 100 Years of Waiting Till Next Year" and had been at work on a novel called "Opening Day," about a heist at Wrigley Field.
"He understood that people have that third place away from their home and work, and he wanted Sheffield's to be that place for writers," said Dana Kaye, a friend and book publicist. "He was such a gentleman all the time. He would do anything to help anyone."
Mr. Hess is survived by a wife, Julia; two sons, Parker Wiltberger and John Kauffmann; and three sisters, Martha Jaynes, Patricia Goetz and Heidi Hess.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
- January 31, 2011
I am an old friend of Heidi's from elementary school. I would like to send my prayers and sympathy to the Hess family. I was so sorry to hear about Richard. Please know that I am praying for all of you in your time of loss.
formerly of Mt. Morris Mich.