Charles Malachias, who ran the French Quarter restaurant Café Maspero for 43 years, died Sunday at his New Orleans home from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 87.
“He always wanted to give people what they paid for, and more,” said his wife, Helen Malachias. “His whole life was wonderful because he met his challenges with much energy and spirit. There was no such thing as ‘I can’t do it.’ ”
Malachias had worked with family members in other eating establishments before opening Café Maspero in 1971 in rented space at Chartres and St. Louis streets. It was a difficult time, his wife said, because he had broken a leg the previous summer, and she had just given birth to the couple’s fourth child.
“He said he would work 24 hours a day,” she said. “I’ve always carried a banner for him because he worked so hard.”
After working there for 9½ years, he moved the café in 1980 to Decatur and Toulouse streets, where it still is in business. When real estate developers saw lines of prospective customers stretching out the door in the early 1980s, they took it as a sign that Decatur Street was on the upswing, Helen Malachias said.
A lifelong New Orleanian who was born to Greek immigrants, Malachias graduated from Warren Easton High School, where he played football.
He served in the Army from 1953 to 1955, becoming a sergeant. He was deployed to Kansas and Newfoundland and was ready to go to Korea, but the fighting there ended before he shipped out.
When Malachias returned to New Orleans, he joined his family at a series of eateries, starting with a coffee shop his father ran on Canal Street. Then he moved to the Rex Luncheonette at Canal and Decatur streets before opening Hillcrest Restaurant in Metairie with a brother.
When Malachias was in his own establishment on Decatur Street, he was in his element, his wife said, greeting diners, finding out where out-of-towners were from, and ensuring that everyone had a good time.
But, she said, it wasn’t all fun. He survived cancer twice and struggled to repair Hurricane Katrina-related damage.
Then Alzheimer’s disease began to set in. His memory loss, along with aging, kept him from mingling with customers, his wife said: “It robbed him of what had been his trademark.”
He sold the restaurant to the local hospitality company Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts in 2014.
When Zeid Ammari, the group’s chief operating officer, announced the purchase, he said he wouldn’t dream of tampering with the restaurant. “It’s a legend in the Quarter,” he said in an interview “His is a tradition that doesn't need to be refined.”
Malachias was a member of the French Market Corp. board from 1981 to 1994. At Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, he was Parish Council president and co-chairman of the committees that run the Greek Festival and Greek Night.
In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Ilya Malachias of New York City and Bobby Malachias of New Orleans; two daughters, Kris Diane Malachias McGee of Houston and Stacy Malachias Cosse of Shreveport; and eight grandchildren.
A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 1200 Robert E. Lee Blvd. Visitation will start at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Lake Lawn Metairie Cemetery. Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
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