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Co-owner of Wichita Cajun restaurant dies three months after his youngest son, partner

Wichita eagle logo Wichita eagle 1/23/2021 Denise Neil, The Wichita Eagle

Jan. 22—The patriarch of a restaurant family that has kept Cajun food flowing in Wichita for the past 15 years has died — less than three months after the untimely death of his youngest son.

Chris Granger, co-owner of Da Cajun Shak at 6249 E. 21st St., died on Friday morning of complications from heart surgery. He was 73.

Chris, known for his thick Cajun drawl and friendly countenance, had back-to-back heart attacks about 10 years ago and had retired from the family business at his doctor's advice. But he continued to be a key player in the family's collection of local restaurants, which includes not only Da Cajun Shak but also a chain of four Da Chicken Shak & More restaurants that started in 2018.

He had remained deep in mourning over the loss of his youngest son and Da Cajun Shak founder Tim, who died on Halloween of a massive heart attack at age 47.

Chris was admitted to the hospital earlier this month when he experienced trouble breathing, his grandson and Tim's son, Gabe Granger, said. Doctors determined he needed to have a heart valve repaired, but Chris' condition continued to deteriorate after surgery. He was in the hospital for 12 days, Gabe said.

His grief over Tim's loss was likely a factor in his decline, his family believes.

"It was such a shock and really hard to recover from," Gabe said. "I would definitely say that played a part in his health."

Chris was a Louisiana native who married his high school sweetheart, Patty, 54 years ago. They'd known each other since fourth grade, and Patty describes him as "the love of my life."

The couple, who had three sons, started their family in Louisiana but moved to Wichita in the early 1990s so Chris could take a job heading the cafeteria at Newman University, then called Kansas Newman. Patty also worked in food service, heading up the cafeteria at Kapaun Mt. Carmel High School.

Five years later, the couple left their jobs to become managing partners in Sonic restaurants around town. But Chris' entrepreneurial spirit was nagging at him, and he wanted to start his own business.

Tim approached his father with a plan to open a Cajun restaurant that would specialize in the family recipes Patty had grown up learning from her Grandmother Lena. Tim opened the first Da Cajun Shak at 31st and Oliver in 2005, and it was a hit with nearby Boeing workers. But when the machinists went on strike, business dried up, and the family decided to move Da Cajun Shak to 21st and Woodlawn, where it's operated ever since.

Chris and Patty both devoted themselves to the business, with Patty in the kitchen, Tim out front and the other two Granger sons, Billy and Chris Jr., also getting involved.

Though he was officially retired, Chris was active in the businesses and served as their public face. Many Wichitans learned how to peel a crawfish under Chris' patient tutelage, and he served as the media contact for the family businesses. Until Tim died in October, Chris would also faithfully haul a trailer with a fryer to local car lots and cater meals for employees twice a month, Gabe said.

Chris was proud of his big family, which includes nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Just before Tim died last year, he and Patty had purchased a home at Table Rock Lake where he planned to relax and entertain his family.

"He and my dad were going to hang out there and enjoy life on the lake and live the dream," Gabe said.

Gabe has been running Da Chicken Shak & More restaurants since his father's death, and his siblings have been helping Patty keep Da Cajun Shak afloat while Chris has been hospitalized. The next generation is prepared to keep the Granger family's local restaurant legacy going, Gabe said.

But he'll miss his grandfather, whom he described as independent yet sweet and personable.

"He was just a very strong figure," Gabe said. "He always seemed in charge. He never seemed scared and always knew what to do in any situation. That's something I'll really miss."

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