By Denise Allabaugh, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice
WILKES-BARRE — Phil Rudy, the owner of the downtown fixture Circles on the Square, died unexpectedly Thursday morning, according to co-workers.
Rudy, whose business is known for its concentric neon loops and tongue-in-cheek sandwich names, died after feeling ill at his restaurant and being taken by ambulance to an area hospital. He was 68.
The restaurant was closed the rest of the day.
Brenda Sokolowski, an employee at Circles for 11 years, gathered with co-workers and friends inside the closed restaurant on Thursday afternoon.
Circles on the Square has been a downtown fixture for 32 years, offering deli fare, sandwiches and aptly named daily specials. A few of the specials on Thursday’s menu included “Re-Lent-Less,” billed as a “Lenten egg salad,” and “Mom’s Winter Buster,” a meatloaf and cheese sandwich.
Rudy, of Fairview Township, often personally came up with the names of his specials, once saying, “I used to get out my unabridged dictionary if I got stuck.”
He attributed his success in his business to offering high-quality products combined with his devotion and sound financial practices. In a 2010 interview given just after he received a key to the city, Rudy talked about putting in many unpaid hours, but said he remained proud to own his downtown business.
“I always wanted to be my own boss,” Rudy said at the time. “That, coupled with a love for food and a love for Wilkes-Barre, I never regretted making my decision.”
Sokolowski said Rudy loved Wilkes-Barre and all his employees have worked there for years, including Bill Scholl, Kathy Alaimo, Mande Juckett, Stephanie Jennings and Karen Cigan. Beth Pierontoni recently retired.
“This was the best job I ever had,” Sokolowski said.
She said the menu from Circles on the Square was faxed to thousands of businesses every day.
She showed a menu Rudy came up with for the Super Bowl that included sandwiches with names such as “Super Bowled Over,” “Win Anything?” “Everbody’s A Winner” and “Crying Towels Available.”
Tim Evans, Rudy’s long-time friend and owner of Colours paint supply business in Wilkes-Barre, said one of the things Rudy will be remembered for is his wit.
“There was a different menu every day based upon something that was going on in town or an event,” Evans said. “His wit came out through every sandwich he wrote. People would grab the menus in the morning just to laugh every day.”
Rudy named a permanent tuna salad sandwich after Evans called “Tim’s Built for Speed.”
“He was so funny. Phil was an extremely bright guy and witty,” Evans said. “He was such an advocate of downtown Wilkes-Barre and businesses in downtown Wilkes-Barre. His quality was uncompromising. He would not accept lesser meats or lesser cheeses.”
Rudy is survived by his wife, Deborah. He loved to fish and he loved his dog, Teddy, his co-workers said.