May 24, 2011

Med owner Hans Morsbach dies at 78

A lover of German food, forestry, and all things Hyde Park, Hans Morsbach (M.B.A. ’61), who bought and developed the now-famous Medici Restaurant, died May 6 at Northwestern Hospital at the age of 78. He died from complications from a stroke following surgery.

He bought the restaurant in 1964 for $1,600 on a whim and without any long-term visions for the restaurant.

Now, the servers wear shirts touting “Obama eats here.” The proof is literally on the walls—Malia Obama left her signature upstairs among those of thousands of University students and visitors.

Though the Medici restaurant has become a classic Hyde Park institution for University students and Hyde Park passersby alike, Jake Spicer (A.B. ’97), manager of The Pub and Morsbach’s long-time business partner and friend, describes Morsbach’s relationship with the University as “love/hate.”

“He liked his experience at the business school and thought very highly of the academics,” Spicer said. “But he never felt like an insider with the University administration. That pained him as an alumnus and a resident of Hyde Park.”

Nevertheless, the graffitied furniture, walls, and surfaces of the restaurant reflect Morsbach’s legacy at the University.

Though born in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Morsbach raised his family with his wife Kathy on Harper Avenue, sending both of their children to Ray Elementary and championing the preservation of Promontory Point, among other Hyde Park causes.

“He was a champion for the downtrodden everywhere,” Spicer said.

Morsbach also loved spending time on his farm in Wisconsin, where he planted hundreds of thousands of trees to foster his love of forestry. He published the book Common Sense Forestry in 2003, and his love of art and nature is reflected at the Med.

“He helped make every piece of furniture in the restaurant, as well as handpick each piece of art,” Kirsten Esterley, manager of the Medici Restaurant, said. “The Indian temple guard especially reflects his impact on the restaurant. It took forever to get here from a Frankfurt antique store, but it’s here now and has been rotating once every hour.”

According to his son Paul, he was a man who was never afraid to take chances

His wife Kathy said he was a good husband and a great father. To Esterley, he was a man whose personal integrity and ethical business practices inspired her own business practices.

“He was definitely a character,” Esterley said. “He stood at 6’3” and had no filter. He said exactly what he wanted, and though not everyone agreed with his politics, he always came from a good place and wanted the best for his customers, his workers, his family, and friends.”

Throughout his life, Morsbach’s booming personality and voice never faltered. “For example, he was arrested in his earlier years for protesting against the Rosenberg trials in the ’60s,” Spicer said. “A lot of people have a couple of good years, but Hans had 50. That’s the kind of guy he was.”

In addition to his wife Kathy and son Paul, he is survived by his daughter Sarah Morsbach Honaker, brother Paul, and a one-year-old granddaughter.