A South Side restaurant legend known as the “Shrimp Man” has died.
Finnie Lee Haire, who started Haire’s Gulf Shrimp in the 1980s after retiring from a decades-long career with the U.S. Postal Service, died Jan. 26. He was 80.
“When he made a decision of something he wanted to do, he got it done,” his daughter, MeChele Kelly-Haire, said. “The restaurant was an example of that.”
Haire’s Gulf Shrimp, at 7448 S. Vincennes Ave., will remain open, Kelly-Haire said.
The cause of death is unclear, his daughter said. Finnie Haire checked into the hospital in early January with breathing troubles, but tested negative for COVID-19, his daughter said. His death was announced on the restaurant’s Facebook page the day he died.
According to his obituary posted by the family, Haire was born in Perkins, Arkansas, the youngest of 10 children. He moved to Chicago at about the age of 4 and attended Daniel Webster Elementary School and graduated from Wendell Phillips Academy High School in the Bronzeville neighborhood.
Haire enlisted in the U.S. Navy after graduating high school and completed a tour in Vietnam. Haire became a hair stylist after his discharge and then worked for the U.S. Post Office for more than 35 years, where he was promoted to a supervisory role.
In the late 1980s, Haire retired from the post office and started Haire’s Gulf Shrimp with his mother’s shrimp recipe.
“As a young man, his mother had taught him many things, but the recipe was the most important,” the obituary says.
The recipe, the obituary says, was “her own shrimp batter recipe that she made up herself from scratch and she had never shared it with anyone else before.”
“She also mentioned that if they ever wanted to become successful and famous that the shrimp batter would make them famous,” the obituary says.
The batter and seasoning is the secret to the restaurant’s success, Kelly-Haire said, and “it hasn’t been altered at any point.”
Haire appeared regularly on the restaurant’s social media accounts, including to promote a Veteran’s Day special in 2019.
Haire’s Gulf Shrimp garnered fans near and far, including Chance the Rapper, who said on Twitter in 2013, “I eat Haire’s Gulf Shrimp for breakfast.”
In a 2019 roundup of the city’s best shrimp cocktails, the Tribune described the version at Haire’s Gulf Shrimp as boasting “a shockingly delicate crust and a perky marinade, which pairs nicely with a mild cocktail sauce.”
Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church, 14618 Lincoln Ave., Harvey. A balloon ceremony in Haire’s honor will be held at the restaurant at 3 p.m. Friday.
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