At 10 a.m. Saturday, May 11, Al Karagas will be remembered at a Greek Orthodox Memorial and Prayer Gathering at St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church, 5555 South Yosemite Street in Greenwood Village. A flag-folding ceremony has already been held for the vet, and his friends honored Al Karagas with this obituary:
Al (Aléxandros) Karagas was born in Detroit on February 3, 1928, to George and Angeline Karagas, first-generation immigrants from Greece. He died on January 23 of this year in Denver just days before his 91st birthday. That fact would not have made Al happy, because it meant he would have missed out on a birthday party, and he loved parties, especially when he was the center of attention.
Al was the second oldest and last surviving brother of the four Karagas brothers. His oldest brother, Nick, was his best friend. His beloved younger brothers, Jim and Angelo, were famed in Denver for founding My Brothers Bar and the Wazee Supper Club.
Al was no stranger to the restaurant business himself. Brother Jim once related that as children, the older brothers worked in their father's bar in Detroit, which he called Karagan’s "because no one wanted to drink in a Greek bar.” Al partnered with his brother Nick in two successful restaurants, Verne’s next to Wayne State University in Detroit and a pizza place, The Little Brown Jug, in Union Lake, Michigan. An anecdote from the Detroit Yes! website states: "My very favorite all-time burger was at Verne's on Forest at WSU. Yum! The restaurant was a dark beamed Teutonic wonder with a huge natural fireplace in the center. Heavy dark tables and chairs added to the atmosphere. They brought your cooked to order burger in its hefty sesame bun to the table on a sheet of waxed paper, and gave you a tray of condiments, onions and pickles to lavish over the meat as you pleased."
That concept was used by Jim and Angelo when they opened Brothers, though a pot-bellied stove substituted for a fireplace. They again borrowed from Al when they opened the Wazee. Not wanting to open another hamburger joint, they turned to Al for his pizza recipe from the Little Brown Jug and how to prepare it.
Al moved from Detroit to Denver in the early ’90s to help his brothers in the restaurants. It’s a tough business, and all owners have their admirers and detractors. If Al Karagas ever had a detractor, they have yet to say it to the face of any of the multitude who loved him and who knew him to be the unsung force behind the Wazee and Brothers. Whenever help was needed in the restaurants, Al was there with his solid knowledge and often his own money. He was a fixture for two decades at Brothers and a major force in the goodwill that generated from there, often serving as the congenial host and helping to cement Brothers as a place that welcomed all but took nonsense from no one. You behaved respectfully or you behaved somewhere else.
Al was recently characterized as being a “hard worker” and little else. Any who pigeon-holed him as that did not understand the man at all. It is true that he was never afraid of work and he never cut a corner in his life. By example, he showed those who worked around him how to do things the right way, not the convenient way. Saying “Get off your ass and get to work” made Al irascible in the eyes of some, but not to those who knew him. They saw beneath the sometimes-gruff exterior to see the kind, caring and charitable man he was. The man who loved to laugh and the man who was quick to empathize with you in your troubles. He loved honesty, decency and respect, and those who did not value those traits were no friends of Al. He quietly observed and he knew well the difference between friend and fraud. To those he considered his friends, he could bring no joy greater than letting them know that by giving them the finger with a big smile on his face. (Never to women, though. He was a gentleman.)
Yes, Al was a hard worker. He worked hard at making people happy. He worked hard at satisfying customers. He worked hard at being a good man. He didn’t work hard at hamburgers and pizza. He already knew that craft. He worked hard on the important things.
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Al loved boats, women, traveling and children, not necessarily in that order. He held court upon his 47-foot yacht moored in Lake Erie, rode camels in Egypt, flushed Japanese prisoners out of the jungles of the Philippines after WW II and gave away countless balloons to children at Brothers. In his later years, he spent a month traveling in China and Vietnam, and spent a great deal of that time looking for a cheeseburger.
Al loved lively conversation and could be very thoughtful on many topics. He loved ham and eggs for brunch and treasured dinner companions of all walks of life. To be his friend was a privilege. He was the only one of his siblings to graduate from college and he stressed the value of education to the many young people who worked alongside him.
Al is survived by many hundreds, if not thousands, of well-wishers. Anyone would consider it a life well-lived if they could claim half that many.
Sadly, the days of the Karagas brothers have passed, and Denver is poorer for the work ethic, the fun and sense of community that has gone with them. Bless them all.