WEST TOWN — Friends, family and loyal customers of Odge's, which has anchored the northwest corner of Damen Avenue and Superior Street for more than 40 years, are mourning the loss of the hot dog stand's 67-year-old owner and community staple.
Edwin Steven Boksa Sr., who went by the nickname of "Odge," died about 2 a.m. Monday from a heart attack, family members said Wednesday as they gathered in front of Odge's. The restaurant is closed for the immediate future.
"We are distraught," said Porfirio "Pilo" Diaz, a nephew of Boksa's.
Located just south of Chicago Avenue, Odge's opened in 1971 at 730 N. Damen Ave.
The bright yellow, red and green restaurant is easy to spot from the street. Yelp.com reviews include fans raving about Odge's Italian beef, hot dogs, "greasy Polishes" and "pure heaven" cheese fries.
Diaz, 27, began working at Odge's when we was 17. He works with Odge's son, Edwin Steven Jr., or "Junior," who is the restaurant's general manager.
Both Diaz and "Junior" were trained by the elder Boksa.
"If you wanted to work, he would teach you what it is to make money and give all the advice you needed," Diaz said, adding that he and his cousin grew up a block away from Odge's and "everyone has lived in [Odge's] building at one point of our lives."
Boksa was born in Chicago and grew up in the 1900 block of Huron Street, Diaz said.
When Odge was young, his sister "couldn't pronounce Edjew, which was Polish for Edwin, so she would say 'Odge,'" Diaz said.
Boksa and his wife, Juana, owned the corner building at Damen and Superior where Odge's is located and have been involved in community organizations and employing local youth for the entire time the restaurant has existed, Diaz said.
"He gets people from the neighborhood to work there. He only hires people he knows," Diaz said.
Boksa maintained a constant presence at Odge's, even when he began suffering from complications from diabetes over the past 10 years, Diaz said.
Diaz described his uncle as "an average-size man with a big sweet tooth: He did what he wanted, and he didn't believe in doctors."
"He would call us in the middle of the night if he saw anything suspicious," said Heibel, who has operated her business across from Odge's for 20 years.
Heibel recalled one night when a light was left on in one of Sprout's delivery trucks, and Boksa not only called police but he waited until they arrived to make sure everything was OK.
"He was scared there was a break-in and was looking out for us," Heibel said of Boksa, who she said was "a facet in the neighborhood."
Sympathies are pouring in on Odge's Facebook page "wall."
Javier "Harv" Roman, a local resident who lives two blocks from Odge's, wrote that he was "very careful not to walk in front of Odge's" if he was carrying a McDonald's bag and Odge was sitting on the front step.
About 20 years ago, a McDonald's opened less than one block from Odge's, at the northwest corner of Damen and Chicago avenues.
"Food is food but when you came in [to Odge's] you'd see Odge, you'd see his wife, you'd see his kids. Odge's was one of those places that lasted and did not change, with the booths and the black and white photos on the walls," Roman said in a telephone interview.
Roman grew up in the neighborhood and worked as a program director for the Boy's and Girl's Club.
"I would tell him how many kids we had to feed and he would type up all the sandwiches and then just say, 'Give me $20 bucks.' It was always much less. He never gave us the actual rate," Roman said.
Roman said Odge "was more than just a neighbor. He was family, he was a friend. He was a great character who represented West Town well ... before it was known as West Town."
In addition his wife, Juana, two sons, a daughter and three grandchildren, Boka is survived by several nieces, nephews and friends. Services were held Wednesday. The burial will be private.