Dennis Saphir Stays in Tune With his Father
This week's Patch Portraits also features Northbrook's original state champ football coach and Morton Grove's lady Violet.
"He learned the stuff through his father who learned it through his father who learned it through his father and so on." Dennis Saphir began as he recounted how his father, Kurt Saphir, got into the business of pianos.
Dennis Saphir is now a sixth generation paino technician, his son a seventh.
Kurt Saphir came to the United States after fleeing his home country of Vienna during World War II, and after living for some time as a refugee in Hong Kong. Kurt began his business as a piano tuner on Chicago's Southside. (Check out more of our Patch Portrait Series.)
"He always liked to get his hands dirty and would buy these upright pianos that needed a lot of help," Dennis remembered of his father, who passed away in June.
In his spare time, the Kurt would repair these pianos and sell them to people. From this small basement enterprise the idea for a business sprang. Eventually Kurt Saphir would run five stores, including the Wilmette location.
Dennis took over as company president 15 years ago but his father never retired. The only thing that could stop his father's passion for his work was the heart attack that ended his life two months ago.
"Unfortunately my dad had cancer in the end too although that's not what took his life. But he came to work every single day in spite of the therapy he had which was really rough." Dennis said, "He'd still go to his office. He'd kind of stager in and go to his desk and sit there, but you'd never know when you talked to him on the telephone how sick he was."
In his later years, Kurt mainly handled the service side of the business, insisting on calling customers himself instead of adopting a more modern email approach. "He made a connection with so many people," according to Dennis.
For Dennis Saphir, the death of his father also meant the loss of a coworker and friend. "He was my best buddy. We worked here everyday together," Dennis said.
Kurt used to enter his store every morning asking, in his heavy Viennese accent, "how do you do?" "I still expected that to happen and it doesn't happen anymore," said Dennis.
Kurt Saphir Pianos today is run by Dennis and his wife, Deanna.
"It's still a family business. It'll always be a family business. The Kurt Saphir name will never go over to anyone who isn't part of Kurt Saphir."