Chicago Legend Joseph Zucchero, Whose Mr. Beef Restaurant Inspired 'The Bear', Dead at 69

A legendary Chicago restauranteur passed away this month at the age of 69. Joseph Zucchero was known as the co-founder of Mr. Beef, and created some sandwiches that have become iconic to the city over the last half-century. According to his obituary, Zucchero passed away unexpectedly on Wednesday, March 1, but his cause of death was not revealed.

Zucchero and his brother Dominic opened their Mr. Beef restaurant in the late 1970s, serving up old family recipes in the River North neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. According to a report by NPR, Mr. Beef directly inspired the restaurant on the hit FX series The Bear which premiered last year. The set on that show was even modeled after Mr. Beef's real-life kitchen, and fans took notice. This homage led to a surge in business for Zucchero and his family.

Zucchero was humble about the new success and recognition, noting that series creator Chris Storer was a family friend. He told reporters from WBEZ: "My son and a young man that he grew up with, Chris Storer, would come down here when they were kids. You know, they were kids, and I let them hang around the restaurant. They built this [set] inside a building. And they took me to it. They wanted me to see it. And my mouth dropped. I was like, 'Oh, my God' – I mean, from the floor to the ceiling to the countertops to the equipment."

The thing that made Zucchero's food distinct in real life was apparently his slow-cooking style. His son Christopher told WBEZ that these recipes dated back to a time in the early 20th century when impoverished Italian immigrants in Chicago could only afford the toughest cuts of beef. To make up for it, they would typically cook the meat slowly to tenderize it, and the Zucchero brothers carried these techniques over to their sandwich shop.

Christopher said that other staples of their style included good bread and an Italian relish called giardiniera, among other trade secrets. He believes that the sandwich is emerging as a Chicago icon, saying: "It's strictly our root food. It really is our food here in Chicago, as opposed to the Philly cheesesteak or a New York – I don't even know if they have a meat type of sandwich in New York."

Mr. Beef will stay in the family, according to a report by Eater. Zucchero's daughter Lauren will now manage the sandwich shop with the help of friends. The Bear is filming its second season in Chicago now, and there's no doubt it will pay homage to its inspiration in some way.