ENGLEWOOD — Finnie Haire spent most of life in service of others, his family said, sharing his culinary gift with the world while building a legacy for his children and relatives.
Haire, who spearheaded the popular Haire’s Gulf Shrimp shop in Englewood, died Jan. 26 and was laid to rest over the weekend. He was 80.
Haire was in the military, did hair and worked with the U.S. Postal Service, but many on the South Side came to know him as “The Shrimp Man” for his restaurant’s signature fried shrimp. He cooked it with a secret family recipe.
“He was a force,” said Aisha Haire, his wife of seven years.
Originally from Perkins, Arkansas, Haire was the baby of 10 children, according to an obituary posted by his family.
He attended Webster Elementary School on the West Side and graduated from Wendell Phillips High School in Bronzeville, where he was a star of the track team, his family said.
He enlisted in the Navy and served in the Vietnam War. After being honorably discharged, Haire and his brother became hairstylists.
After that, Haire worked for the post office for 35 years, his family said. At one point, he attended night classes at Kennedy King College to earn a degree in business management.
Haire retired from the post office in 1992 and launched the first iteration of Haire’s Gulf Shrimp out of a caboose using his mom’s recipe, according to the obituary. The business grew and was based out of multiple South Side locations over the years before setting up shop at 7448 S. Vincennes Ave. about 13 years ago.
People came from all over for a Bomb Bag, a paper bag filled to the brim with shrimp fried to golden perfection. Both the wet marinade and the dry breading were his mom’s original creations.
Haire’s was a favorite haunt for Chance The Rapper, who was a frequent figure on the restaurant’s Instagram feed, along with his brother, Taylor Bennett.
While Haire’s Gulf Shrimp grew in popularity, the patriarch remained
grounded. For him, the restaurant wasn’t just about making money; it was
about honoring his Southern roots and his mother, who entrusted to him the
It was also about building something that would sustain his family for years to
come. Haire’s Gulf Shrimp is a family operation through and through. Nieces
and nephews take shifts on the cash register, with aunts and uncles keeping
a watchful eye in back.
It’s that commitment to family that his daughter, MeChele Kelly, will
remember the most.
“My kids and I would go out to dinner with my dad, and he was always full of
love and wisdom. And little jokes,” said Kelly, who followed in her father’s
footsteps and joined the Army, serving for 20 years. “He made sure that everyone was treated equally
“If you gave one kid a peppermint, you better have candy for the rest of them too, or break it into pieces and share.”
Finnie and Aisha Haire met at the funeral of a mutual friend eight years ago, kicking off a whirlwind romance that led the veteran to proposing after a few months.
“He told my mother, ‘I want to marry your daughter,’ and gave her a little token gift,” she said. “And within a year of meeting, we got married.”
The late civil rights leader Samuel Clements officiated the ceremony in his Evergreen Park home. Aisha Haire put her sales and marketing expertise to work to help Haire’s Gulf Shrimp expand its customer base through neighborhood festivals and with a coveted booth at the Taste of Chicago.
Haire was admitted to the hospital last month with trouble breathing, but he told his daughter he had every intention of returning to the restaurant and would be home in a couple of weeks, Kelly said. But his condition deteriorated rapidly and he was moved into intensive care out of caution due to his dialysis treatment.
“He was tested for COVID-19 before he was admitted, and that test was negative,” said Kelly, who is still uncertain of the cause of her father’s death.
Haire is survived by his wife and daughter, and three other children: Angel Harris, Martashanika Martin and Patrick Dogan. Two children, Phinneaus A. Haire and Christopher C. Haire, preceded him in death.
Though Kelly continues to grapple with her grief, she is determined to carry on the family business, as her father intended.
“My father was a doer,” Kelly said. “If he said he was going to do it, he did it. Nobody stopped him, no one stood in his way. He always found a way.”
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