LAKEVIEW — Dan Wolf, longtime owner of The Bagel in Lakeview, was known for his kindness and generosity.
When employees were short on their mortgage payments, Wolf would offer financial assistance. When their kids were sick, he’d make sure they had the right doctors. He was known to give free soup, bagels or sandwiches to people experiencing homelessness when they’d stop by the restaurant.
“He was always giving to people because that’s just who he was,” said Richard Brantner, general manager of The Bagel. “He was just a real mensch.”
Wolf, who helped build The Bagel into a family-owned institution and was instrumental in growing the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, died Friday, said his spouse, Mitchell Kaufman. He was 77.
Wolf was born in the Theresienstadt concentration camp and was one of its few child survivors, moving to the United States with his family at 4 years old, Kaufman said. In Albany Park, his grandparents, Chaim and Elsa Golenzer, opened the original Bagel restaurant with the help of Wolf’s parents, Ruth and Edward Wolf.
Dan Wolf started working in the restaurant at 7, typing the daily menus because he was the only family member who had mastered English at the time, Kaufman said.
When Wolf took over as owner of the family business, he led The Bagel through three locations, including a move to Skokie’s Old Orchard shopping center and the opening of the restaurant’s current location at 3107 N. Broadway, Kaufman said. The Bagel will remain open in honor of Wolf.
“The restaurant has become a multigenerational institution,” Kaufman said. “It’s kind of ingrained into the communal history of Chicago now.”
Part of The Bagel’s success was the close bond Wolf had with its customers, Brantner said.
“A lot of customers have been coming in and saying, ‘It was always so nice to see his big smile when we’d come through the door,'” Brantner said. “He’d greet everybody graciously.”
Cook County Public Guardian Charles P. Golbert — a regular at The Bagel — agreed with Brantner’s description of Wolf as a “mensch.”
Once, a longtime Bagel customer who was showing early signs of dementia came into the restaurant with a paper bag full of money and tried giving it to Wolf. The customer was confused and disoriented, Golbert said.
“Mr. Wolf was appropriately concerned,” Golbert said. “He put the money in the restaurant’s safe and contacted our office.”
The Public Guardian’s Office was eventually appointed the person’s legal guardian, and they used the money for their care and comfort, Golbert said.
“Financial exploitation of people who are older and have disabilities is an exploding problem in our society,” Golbert said. “Thank goodness there are still decent, honest people — mensches — like Mr. Wolf.”
Wolf also loved children and would give them free treats when families would stop by, Brantner said.
“He always made sure he had something special to say to the kids or to sit down with them to take their colorings and drawings they made for him,” Brantner said.
The Bagel was like family to Wolf, Kaufman said. Many employees of the restaurant have worked for Wolf for decades.
“I think he liked to keep The Bagel open just so we had a place to work, because I’m sure he didn’t really need it,” said Brantner, who started as a server at The Bagel’s Skokie location 33 years ago. “The Bagel fed a lot of mouths.”
Maureen Martino, executive director of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, said Wolf was instrumental in growing the chamber and pioneered many of the programs it offers. She said most people would describe him as “kind and generous.”
Wolf served as a commissioner for the local Special Service Area No. 8 for more than 30 years and as a Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce leader for another five, Martino said.
During Wolf’s tenure, he helped pioneer programs like the Lakeview East Gift Cards, private security, maintenance crews and facade rebates, Martino said.
Even before the chamber was formed, Wolf was known as a community organizer among businesses, bringing people together to build a vibrant community in Lakeview.
“Danny really laid the foundation for us to grow,” Martino said. “He was an active participant and a team player and always wanted to make sure we could change the things that weren’t working.”
Wolf was also passionate about giving back to various causes, including the Jewish Child & Family Services Chicago, which honored him with an award a few years ago, Kaufman said.
“He didn’t do these things for the limelight, and it was very difficult to get him to accept that award,” Kaufman said. “He was just grateful to America for all the opportunities it gave him and his family, so he wanted to give back.”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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