"Nick personified all that is good about his hometown. He was Mr. Memphis"

By Rebecca Angel Baer
September 06, 2019
Justin Fox

The South has lost another of its culinary icons. Today, we mourn alongside the city of Memphis the death of Nick Vergos, co-owner of the world-famous barbeque restaurant Charlies Vergos Rendezvous, who lost his battle with cancer on Thursday, September 5. Vergos was just 67 years old.

If you've been to Memphis or you call the Bluff City your home, you undoubtably know that some of the city's best meals can be found down an unassuming alley in the heart of downtown. Your nose can surely lead the way to the charcoal pit, smoky, dry-rub goodness. Charlie Vergos Rendezvous is one of the most iconic BBQ joints in the country. Founded by Nick's father Charlie in 1948 as what was first a sandwich shop, the Vergos family have been feeding the bellies of hungry Memphians and tourists ever since. But the loss of Nick Vergos isn't just the death of a barbeque legend, Vergos was a treasured member of the community at large.

As well as being a restauranteur, Vergos, a life-long Memphis resident, was a known philanthropist who gave so much to the city he loved. He was a champion for other small business and restaurant owners. As the Commercial Appeal reports, Vergos was always volunteering to cook and serve the dry-rub ribs for which Rendezvous is world-renown, but "he was just as often willing to take a background role and assist another chef in the kitchen. His humility was always obvious in his generosity and willingness to help."

Despite his own cancer diagnosis Nick Vergos remained a loyal partner with the Make-A-Wish foundation, determined to brighten the youngest lives facing the hardest fights.

Make-A-Wish Midsouth went on to say on Twitter, "We are each so inspired in reflecting on the strength in which he fought his illness. He was courageous, brave, strong and also humble. His battle with cancer gave him new eyes to see the challenges of wish kids and the true impact a wish can have in the life of a child."

His impact is evident in the barrage of tributes that have poured in on social media. Memphis mayor Jim Strickland said, "Today, Memphis lost a restaurant legend. I've known Nick Vergos for more than 25 years and knew his commitment to his family and their iconic Rendezvous. He will be missed. Thoughts and prayers to his wonderful mother, wife, children, and entire Vergos family."

Vergos, like most Memphis natives, was a die-hard Memphis Tigers basketball fan and even though he was sick, he made one last trip as one of 150 dedicated fans to watch his beloved Tigers play in a pre-season tournament in the Bahamas. Geoff Calkins of The Daily Memphian recently reported on this last blue and grey adventure. Calkins reported that illness didn't stop Vergos from revving up the excitement in his fellow passengers. "He was in the front, passing out candies, and reveling in the chance to watch the start of the most anticipated Memphis basketball season in a decade," Calkins wrote. He also stated that Vergos told him simply, "Some Tiger basketball will do me good."

His support of the hometown team didn't go unnoticed, and when news broke on Thursday of Vergos' death, new coach, and Memphis celebrity himself, Penny Hardaway paid tribute at a meeting of the Memphis Rebounders Club saying, "He was a good friend, really sweet guy, was always there when we needed him. And it's just really sad to say because I know out of all years, he would want to be here right now. So, we just have to keep his family in our prayers and support them."

When outside of the city limits, Vergos was the model ambassador of his beloved city. He brought his famous ribs to the James Beard House not once, but twice. Life-long friend and general chairman of WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational golf tournament, Jack Sammons told The Commercial Appeal, "Nick personified all that is good about his hometown. He was Mr. Memphis…Nick's face, his voice and his personality were all a brand in itself recognized around the world as a Memphis icon. If there was a Mount Rushmore for barbecue, Nick and his dad 'Big Charlie' would be there side-by-side."

WATCH: BBQ&A - Memphis In May

Nick Vergos leaves a legacy far bigger than what came out of those famous charcoal barbeque pits and we here at Southern Living offer our deepest condolences to the Vergos family, the Rendezvous staff, and the people of Memphis who are all feeling this great loss.