Pietro 'Pete' Rugolo, owner of Jerry's Belvedere Tavern
By By Andrea K. Walker and The Baltimore Sun
May 12, 2013 at 6:35 PM
Pietro "Pete" Rugolo, the popular owner of Jerry's Belvedere Tavern on York Road in Govans, died May 8 at Gilchrist Hospice Care of pancreatic cancer. The Lutherville resident was 75.
Mr. Rugolo grew up in Enna, Sicily, where he stopped attending school after the fifth grade. In 1965 he fell in love with Beatrice Varelli, a woman he had known since childhood; she had returned to Sicily after living a while in America. The two married in 1966 and moved to Baltimore the next year.
She worked as a seamstress at Lebow Brothers and Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc. He worked as a heavy equipment mechanic at Marocco Construction in Towson.
Pete Rugolo always told his wife that by the time he was 40, he wanted to work for himself. His wife suggested they go into the restaurant business.
The couple's son, David Rugolo of Parkville, said they first considered buying a submarine sandwich shop. But then a real estate agent showed them Jerry's. In 1978, the couple purchased the restaurant from Jerry Dotterweich, who had opened it four years earlier.
Mr. Rugolo was a fixture at the restaurant, where he knew many of the customers by name. His wife handled the back-office duties, while he worked the front of the restaurant.
Known for his thick Italian accent and dark handlebar mustache, Mr. Rugolo was a straight shooter not afraid to give his opinion, his son said.
"He was terribly honest," David Rugolo said. "He would tell you things whether you wanted to hear him or not.
"My dad never missed a day of work," he said. "He loved what he did. He loved being around people. If he had his way, he would have slept there too."
Dave Gensler of Lutherville saw Mr. Rugolo at the restaurant just about every week for 30 years when he would come to collect money from the digital jukebox, pinball machines and other machines at the restaurant. Gensler said it was easy doing business with him.
"His word was his bond," Gensler said. "You never needed a contract with Pete. If he shook your hand he was good to his word."
He remembers Mr. Rugolo had a small office with just one chair, but would often hold meetings at a four-top table right outside the space. He treated his regular customers like family, Gensler said.
"I became family just by coming in there once a week," Gensler said.
Jerry's became a political hangout where people such as Baltimore City Councilman Robert W. Curran frequented. Mr. Rugolo allowed Mr. Curran and other members of his family — including former Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Gov. Martin O'Malley — to display campaign signs on the property.
"For years, it has been the hub of all my social activity and that of [many] that live in the North Baltimore area," Robert Curran said. "Everyone knew Pete because he was a hands-on manager. He was there every night until 2 a.m."
Even though he wasn't the restaurant cook, Mr. Rugolo enjoyed preparing old recipes from Sicily. He would head to the kitchen at 7:15 p.m. every evening to cook a meal that always started with pasta, his son said. The staff had patience with him even if the restaurant was crowded.
"None of the employees would say two words to him," David Rugolo said. "They would dance around him no matter how busy it was. They would go about doing what they did while he cooked his food."
Mr. Rugolo and his wife opened a second restaurant, Oscars at Center Stage in Baltimore, but closed it in 1984 after four years of operation. Mrs. Rugolo died in 2008.
Even as he became ill, Mr. Rugolo would always ask how things were going at Jerry's, his son said.
In addition to David Rugolo, surviving Mr. Rugolo are another son, Nathaniel A. Rugolo of Towson, a brother, Michele Rugolo of Bern, Switzerland, and a sister, Angela Villanova of Zurich, Switzerland.