The owner of a well-known Lincolnton eatery died Monday afternoon after suffering a brain aneurysm earlier that morning, friends said.
Lester Ralph Rudisill, 56, of 115 Jonas Drive in Lincolnton, who owned Zippers Restaurant & Lounge in Lincolnton, passed away at Carolinas Medical Center-Main in Charlotte, hours after experiencing the sudden event.
According to Marge Walker, who’s done payroll and bookkeeping for the business at least the last five years, said she couldn’t have asked for a better boss.
She even teared up while talking to the Times-News Monday about Rudisill.
“Ralph was the most wonderful boss man I’ve ever had,” she said.
Walker revealed that he had been on vacation over the last week but had come back to work Sunday afternoon.
Over the years, Rudisill donated portions of the restaurant’s proceeds to local nonprofits but never wanted recognition for it, employees said.
Zippers particularly gave money to Christian Ministry of Lincoln County, Doctors Without Borders and A Child’s Place, the Times-News previously reported.
Rudisill also donated toys to Toys for Tots each Christmas and was especially concerned this past year when the organization’s donations were down from previous years, friend Connie Forner said.
As an employee of Performance Food Service, Forner often sold food to Zippers and knew Rudisill quite well, particularly his heart for giving.
In lieu of flowers, she encouraged the community to donate to Toys for Tots and other area organizations in his name.
“He wouldn’t care about flowers,” Forner said. “He would want the kids to have toys.”
She said she last joked with Rudisill on Sunday, laughing until they “cried,” as he told her to quickly recover from a recent surgery.
“He said, ‘Connie, I love you, and get better so I can come see you,’” she said. “I’m absolutely devastated.”
Zippers also received multiple accolades over the last couple of years including the 2011 and 2012 Taste of Lincolnton award, an honor the Chamber of Commerce hands out at their annual Business Expo.
The Chamber also awarded Rudisill the coveted “Small Business Owner of the Year” award in November.
The Lincolnton native opened Zippers more than 12 years ago with just five employees, and since then, the restaurant has grown to more than 30 workers and has become quite the hot spot for casual dining in the community, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“All of his employees thought a lot of him — customers, too,” Walker said.
She remembered how he often left her little notes on Monday mornings, telling her about recent hires or other important business news.
Rudisill’s death is not the first time tragedy has struck the business.
Zippers employees mourned the loss of cook Angela Cook and two others who died in a house fire on Betterbrook Lane, west of Lincolnton, in 2011.
Her picture hangs on a restaurant wall in her memory.
“He loved this place,” Walker said of the business. “Everybody’s just so torn up.”
Rudisill is survived by a son, two stepsons, a fiance, four brothers, two sisters and two grandchildren.
Memorials may be made to the following organizations: Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, Gift Processing Administrator, 18251 Quantico Gateway Drive, Triangle, Va., 22172; Christian Ministry of Lincoln County, P.O. Box 423, Lincolnton, N.C., 28093-0423; and the American Cancer Society, 1901 Brunswick Ave., Suite 100, Charlotte, N.C., 28207.
A visitation for Rudisill will be 6-8 p.m. today at Warlick Funeral Home in Lincolnton. A funeral will be 3 p.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church in Lincolnton.