WHEELING, IL -- James Contis, who headed Zenith Vending (Chicago) before becoming publisher of Food Industry News (Des Plaines, IL) is dead. He was 85.
A lifelong entrepreneur, Contis began working as a meat delivery boy in Pittsburgh, PA at the age of seven. His family was part owner of Pittsburgh's Contis Restaurant, and he worked in that establishment as a young man.
Relocating to Chicago, Contis opened his own restaurant, the Mad Greek Steakhouse, in the Old Town district. He also worked at the Millionaires Club, owned a small print shop and became a radio personality, with a local show produced for the Greek-American community.
Contis applied this diverse experience to starting his own vending and coin-operated amusements business. He went on to head Zenith Vending, one of greater Chicagoland's largest operations, for more than 25 years.
While active in vending, he met Cliff Carlson, who had launched a trade publication for foodservice operators and suppliers in the metropolitan Chicago market. When Carlson established another magazine, he sold Food Industry News to Contis, who eventually retired from Zenith to become its full-time publisher. His involvement in Food Industry News began in 1982 and ended only with his death.
He is survived by his partner, Paula Mueller; son David (Sandy) Contis and daughter Valerie. The latter, now president and publisher of Food Industry News, recalled that her father "was passionate about producing a publication that would speak to small businesses and offer both support and advice.
"Any morning, anyone could find Jim Contis behind his desk, pulling stories from a stack of magazines, writing his insights and prepping the next few issues," she continued. "'Fall in love with what you do for a living,'" he said, "and he meant it."