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Hell’s Kitchen Chef/Owner Mitch Omer Dies at 61

Mitch Omer alongside wife and Hell’s Kitchen co-owner Cynthia Gerdes.

Often described as “larger than life” by those who knew him, Mitch Omer was the boisterous personality behind Hell’s Kitchen, the downtown Minneapolis restaurant he opened in 2002 with his wife, Cynthia Gerdes, and business partner Steve Meyer.

Always one to speak his mind and support social issues such as marriage equality, Omer was also candid about his personal struggles with alcohol addiction and mental illness. His resolve and perseverance were inspirational to many.

Omer, 61, died at home Friday, December 18, after a yearlong battle with an undisclosed illness. Gerdes and the Hell’s Kitchen family have planned a celebration of his life for Wednesday, December 23, at 1 p.m. at the restaurant, 80 S. 9th St.

A statement from Gerdes:

“We obviously don’t know most of you personally, but for some reason, over the past 13 years, Mitch and I developed a relationship with many of you just through our cheeky posts, our honest behind-the-scenes stories, our hair-raising stories in the cookbook, or just stopping by your table to say thanks and hello. So it pains me beyond comprehension to tell you that Mitch passed away this morning after a yearlong illness that still has the doctors confounded. Our extended Hell’s Kitchen family is still stunned as I write this, but his death during the Christmas holidays is actually quite poetic. Anyone who knew Mitch clearly understood that in his heart of hearts, he really felt he was THE Santa Claus, and his highlight each year was donning his outrageous Santa zoot suit and visiting tables with bug-eyed kids. The man that was bigger than life will always be big in our hearts; I may have just lost my beloved husband, but he really belonged to all of us.”

And in response to inquires about flowers or memorials, Gerdes said Omer’s “heart would sing” if people would instead donate to one of his personal causes:

• The Embarrass (Minnesota) Region Volunteer Fire Department, which made Omer an honorary firefighter during a blizzard trip to the Iron Range for a fundraiser.

• Serena Howe, young family friend single-handedly trying to cover her mother’s funeral expenses after she recently succumbed to cancer.

• Trent Spangler, a 13-year-old aspiring chef battling cancer.

Checks can be made out to the recipient of choice and mailed to: Hell’s Kitchen, 80 S 9th St., Minneapolis, MN 55402

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