Nick Nicholas ~ 1929-2012
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By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent
Nick Nicholas co-founded Alpha Baking Company, which has grown to be one of the largest bakers in Chicago and a national distributor of bakery products.
Nearly every restaurant owner in Chicago knew him and counted on him for the company's bread, buns and rolls, including iconic specials like Mary Ann's poppy seed hot dog buns and Rosen's Jewish rye bread.
But in Des Plaines, where he and his wife, Arlene, raised three daughters, and later in Inverness, he was known as a devoutly religious person and the head usher of Holy Family Catholic Church in Inverness.
Nicholas passed away in his sleep Sunday. He was 83.
"He really was a people person, who made a connection with everyone," says his daughter, Jayme Nicholas of Chicago, a news writer at ABC 7. "He was funny, quick-witted, engaging and welcoming. He just had a way of putting people at ease when they met him."
His co-workers at Alpha Baking, where he worked every day up until the Friday before he died, agreed.
"Nick was very well-known -- and well-liked -- in the city, especially in the Greek community," said Steve Rosen, vice president and general manager of Alpha Baking.
Rosen and other company officials credited Nicholas with their growth, especially from the outset, when they bought the bankrupt Mary Ann Baking Company in 1979, and set out to resurrect the business.
Nicholas had worked at Mary Ann, starting in 1958 as a route driver and making his way up the company ladder. He knew all its customers, including Chicago area restaurants, hotels, hospitals and other institutional clients.
"He was in charge of the entire sales department," Rosen said. "He was instrumental in bringing all of the old customers back, which we needed in order to grow."
Alpha Baking now employs more than 1,500 workers, and services more than 10,000 restaurant and food service accounts across the country.
Locally, Tom Diamond, co-owner and president of Fountain Blue restaurant in Des Plaines, said Nicholas not only provided bread to his restaurant and banquet business, but he was an active supporter of the Des Plaines-based Greek-American Restaurant Association.
"Nick was genuinely honest and kind, and he didn't try to outmaneuver you in business," Diamond said. "He will be missed -- as a friend and as a business associate."
Mike Marcucci, who owns Alpha Baking Co., said Nicholas was so devoted to Alpha, he came into work with a serious infection -- and on an IV drip -- when he should have been resting at home.
"This was during the really dark days at Alpha when our survival was kind of a day to day roll of the dice," Marcucci said. "So he shows up with the IV in his arm and the bag that went with it. We hooked the bag of solution to the water sprinkler pipe that ran just beneath the ceiling over his desk and he did all his work like nothing else mattered."
Even more incredibly, the owners had a meeting with their bank and attorneys concerning serious issues. "In those days (Nicholas) was really the face of the bakery, and this was a critical meeting that couldn't be postponed or missed," Marcucci said.
"So," he told Jayme, "I drove your dad and me downtown with the IV on a short rod sticking through the sun roof of my car. The three of us (your dad, me and the IV) attended the meeting and apparently we were successful enough to keep us in business for a while longer."
Besides his daughter, Jayme, Nicholas is survived by his wife and two other daughters, Mary (Craig) Pieters and Andrea (Curt) Danekas; and nine grandchildren.
Visitation will take place from 3-8 p.m. Friday before a 10:30 a.m. funeral Mass on Saturday, both at Holy Family Church, 2515 Palatine Road in Inverness.
As a reflection of Nicholas' more than 60 years in the food industry, family members ask that in lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Holy Family Village at Food for the Poor (www.foodforthepoor.org)