A funeral mass is scheduled Wednesday for Benno John Deltz, a renowned restaurateur and caterer who began as a cook and waiter and went on to build an island institution.
Deltz died suddenly Friday night, his family said. He was 80.
The founder of Benno’s Cajun Seafood Restaurant, 1212 Seawall Blvd., came from a blue-collar family and went to Catholic schools on the island. He built his own successful business after working for about 20 years at Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant, 3828 Seawall Blvd.
Deltz opened his restaurant in March 1983. Two years later, he opened Catering by Benno, 112 28th St.
“He was third-generation born on the island,” his son Troy Deltz, of Houston, said. “Both his grandfathers were born on the island. He was proud of that, you know.”
Bill Cherry, a longtime friend, recalls when a prominent and successful contractor, Rai Kelso, stopped by Benno’s to eat lunch. It changed the trajectory of the restaurant.
“Benno was renting the place and had no money,” Cherry said. “He bought some cheap equipment at Kmart.” Kelso asked Benno how the business was doing. It wasn’t going well, and the restaurant might have to close its doors, Cherry said.
“I’m out of money and if something doesn’t happen quickly, I’m going to have to shut the doors,” was Benno Deltz’s response, which Cherry recounted in a 2004 Daily News column.
About an hour after finishing a lunch of fried shrimp and oysters, Kelso called Deltz and told him he had written a $50,000 check to help his business, Cherry said.
After graduating from Kirwin High School, Deltz served in the U.S. Navy. He and his friend Wayne Gaido worked under the close eye of Mike Gaido, Wayne’s father. They learned to cook seafood and serve restaurant patrons according to exacting standards, and Deltz kept that work ethic throughout his life, his son said.
Deltz would be remembered by islanders, longtime friend John Ford said.
“Benno was quick-witted and a natural businessman who never met a stranger,” Ford said. “He loved the island he was born on, and Galveston has lost an icon.”
The exact circumstances of Deltz’ death were unclear, but it occurred while he was dining out with friends, one of his favorite things to do, Troy Deltz said.
“He loved to have a good time, and he loved to work,” Troy Deltz said. “He loved good food. He expected it to be right, to be excellent.”
“He did not want to live in a nursing home,” he said.
Benno Deltz is survived by three children: Tracy Deltz, of Galveston; Cheryl Mancuso, of Galveston; and Troy Deltz, of Houston.
The family received visitors Tuesday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Galveston, and a rosary was led by Deacon Sam Dell’ Olio. The funeral Mass will be held 10 a.m. Wednesday at the church. Burial will follow at Galveston Memorial Park Cemetery in Hitchcock.