By Ed Lewis, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Circles on the Square has mainly stayed the same with its crazy and delicious offerings while outside, Public Square has seen many changes since the delicatessen and emporium opened nearly 35 years ago.
Nestled behind a table in the back kitchen doing paper work next to a chest freezer, a wall shelf full of supplies and hot ovens, Debi Rudy continues the legacy her late husband, Phil Rudy, and his business partner, Steve Gibbs, started in January 1985.
“Phil was the type who wanted to work hard and have fun and he did that with Circles,” Debi Rudy said. “Nothing really hasn’t changed, we continue to offer quality and great food to our loyal customers.”
As workers slip, slid and hustle in the back kitchen preparing for another busy day of offering sandwiches and salads, Debi Rudy recalled when she met Phil.
Around the time when Circles opened, Debi Rudy began working for Attorney Carl Frank as a legal secretary, a position she continues today while also operating Circles.
Standing in line one day inside Circles for lunch, she said Phil “flirted” with her by asking her a question. Phil told her if she answered the question correctly, she didn’t have to pay for her lunch.
“Ever since then, we were seven feet off the ground, that’s how passionate we were about each other,” Debi Rudy said.
Phil Rudy would work 16 hours a day, seven days a week. After the two began dating, Debi Rudy said she told him to work six days, having one day to themselves.
After Phil’s passing in March 2017 at the age of 68, Debi Rudy began running Circles leaving the food preparations and menu selections to Brenda Sokolowski and a dedicated staff.
One item Circles is famous for is their day’s menu specials. You never know if a sandwich will be named after you.
Who makes up those crazy sandwich names?
“Phil started naming sandwiches when Circles opened using a twist of some sort, whether it was a current event, seasonal changes or after someone he knew or if someone was in the news,” Debi Rudy said.
Today, Sokolowski makes up the names for the day’s menu specials.
“I stole his ideas,” Sokolowski said. “Phil was a riot and a great man. We all miss him.”
Sandwiches offered by Circles are made with Boarshead deli meats and cheeses. To say the sandwiches are overstuffed would be an understatement. And they offer pickles in a little cup.
Phil Rudy and Gibbs met as students at Wilkes University prior to the Agnes Flood of 1972. Both moved away but returned to the Wyoming Valley to give Wilkes-Barreans “A gold mine of good food” on the Square, says their 1985 newspaper advertisement.
Circles also offers homemade soups, a salad bar, T-shirts, gifts and catering for parties.
While the only change to Circles is their menu that has grown with offerings, Public Square has been transformed with the elimination of the canopy and public transportation buses being moved to the Intermodal Transportation Center.
“I thought it was a good idea to remove the canopy, it really opened up Public Square making us and other stores easily visible,” Debi Rudy noted.
As customers line up to order their sandwiches, a smiling Phil Rudy is pictured above them, fastened high on the wall next to the large menu board. Of course, Phil stands behind a sandwich in the forefront.
“Everyday I come in, I look up and talk to him. I think he’s looking down and no doubt, he’s telling us what to do,” Debi Rudy says.