Jim Makarounis, born July 16, 1963, passed away early in the morning of Jan. 2, 2017, after fighting throat cancer for four years. Jim passed at his family home in Portland, surrounded by his wife of 22 years, Stephanie, daughter, Hannah, and son, Christos. Jim’s father, Christos, an immigrant from Greece, and his mother, Adele, an immigrant from Syria, met through the Orthodox community of Portland. They owned and operated a series of restaurants and bars on the east side of town. Jim, his sister, Chrissy, and his brother, John, grew up helping their parents run those restaurant operations.
Jim attended David Douglas High School and graduated from Oregon State University in 1986. After graduating from OSU, Jim went to work for Central Pointe Software as a salesman. He then moved to Manhattan Beach, California, where he and Stephanie met. After spending the first year of their marriage in Southern California, Jim and Stephanie decided to relocate to Portland to pursue his interest in music and restaurant operations.
On July 10, 1996, Jimmy Mak’s Jazz Club was founded in the what would soon become the Pearl District. At that time, the area was populated by light industry, and the workers in the area became Jimmy Mak’s first core group of regulars. With Stephanie in the kitchen alongside his mother and sister, Jimmy worked the floor waiting tables and developing relationships with customers and purveyors that continue to this day. Hard work, determination and a positive attitude were at the core of his being and his success.
Jim was a jazz saxophonist in high school, and his love for music translated to the tiny stage on the main floor at the corner of his club at Southwest 10th Avenue and Everett Street. In 1997, legendary Portland drummer Mel Brown began his residency at the club, and that relationship became the catalyst for the club’s growth into the city’s premier jazz and live music venue. After 10 wonderful years on the corner, the club relocated across the street, where it grew into one of the best jazz clubs in the world. Over the years, Jim’s commitment to the musicians and his employees manifested itself in the tenure of his staff and the long residencies of many of the bands. So much so, in fact, that many of those folks came to consider themselves family as well. Jimmy Mak’s final show was Dec. 31, 2016.
Jim was a lifelong active member of the Greek Orthodox Church. He grew up at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral and remained a friend and supporter of Holy Trinity throughout his life. When a second parish, St. John the Baptist, was formed in 1997, Jim and Stephanie became founding members. Jim served on the parish council for many years and served two terms as parish council president. He was also active in fundraising and established and chaired the St. John the Baptist Greek festival for several years. Jim’s Christian faith played a central role in his life and helped him and his family grow deeply through his struggle with cancer. He fought the good fight and ended his struggle victorious. Just as he lived with zest, boldness, faith and a love for life and people, so too did he greet death.
In addition to the many friends he developed through his business, the Orthodox community and his childhood and college friends, Jimmy touched people in a special way with his big heart and his broad smile, which was always followed by his big handshake. He valued friendship, made people laugh and brought joy and happiness to the lives he touched. A Trisagion and memorial services have been held. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to St. John the Baptist building fund, care of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, 14485 SW Walker Rd., Beaverton, OR 97006.
Previously published in The Oregonian.