Longtime restaurateur Michael Ratner told his wife, Terry, that in his final weeks he wanted to impart everything he had learned in his life to family and friends.
“A lot of people say this, but I watched him do this,” Terry said.
Ratner passed away Nov. 16 after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 69.
Since 1992, Ratner has been the owner of Tom’s Tavern in downtown Phoenix. The 80-year-old restaurant is a window into the city’s past and a favorite gathering spot for local politicians.
As news of Ratner’s worsening condition spread, many friends paid him visits over the past few weeks, including fellow restaurateurs, waiters from Tom’s and even a man who shines shoes in downtown Phoenix.
“He was a community person more than anyone else I know,” Terry said.
Despite Ratner’s deteriorating health, he was able to make people see past the illness, and many of the guests he had during his last weeks would come back for multiple visits, she said.
Born in Chicago and raised in Brooklyn, Ratner had a passion for the restaurant business ever since opening his first deli, The Pickle Barrel, when he was a 20-year-old college student.
He did some work in real-estate on the side and owned a couple of restaurants over the years, but Terry said once he became the owner of Tom’s, it was difficult to tear him away from the place.
“For 18 years that man went to work,” she said. “I could barely get him to go out on a vacation. It was like pulling teeth.”
Ratner, who initially bought the restaurant on a handshake deal with the previous owners, would often greet customers at the door so that they would feel comfortable.
An avid cyclist, Ratner would ride his bike whether it was 100 degrees or freezing cold, Terry said.
She said that the illness hit him so fast that within weeks he was no longer able to go out for his weekend rides, which deeply affected him.
“One time, he said as a cyclist went by, ‘When I see that I feel very sad,’” Terry said.
Due to his health issues, Ratner had been looking to sell Tom’s to someone who would carry on its legacy.
Information about funeral services was not immediately available.