ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) — Elmira Icon and business owner Charles E. “Pudgie” Cleary, founder of Pudgie’s Pizza and Subs, died early Sunday after injuries sustained from a stroke just days prior, he was 82.
The news was confirmed by a member of the Cleary family, as well as, an obituary posted online.
Born January 9, 1940, Pudgie was born early, and as a result, was a very small child. According to his niece Bernadette Cleary-Drew, Pudgie got the nickname from his uncle, who claimed he would grow up to be healthy.
Pudgie was born to a hard-working, but poor, family, meaning that he had to work his way up to become successful. With the help of money raised by his brother during his time in the Navy, Pudgie’s Pizza opened on N. Main Street in 1963. The pizza shop took over a former bakery that was in the family, with the dough from the bakery being used to make the pizzas and rolls in the beginning.
The chain became very popular and at one point had 52 shop locations around the area, according to his niece. The business has gone through three generations of extended Cleary families, and per the obituary, is being called a local “food empire.”
When speaking about Pudgie, she said he was everyone’s friend and a very loyal person.
“He treated everyone the same, loved hard, and wasn’t afraid to work hard,” Bernadette said. She expressed how he was such a funny person and that he loved his family and Elmira, and that he loved being from here and living here.
A visitation service will be held for Pudgie at McInerny Funeral Home, 502 W. Water St. in Elmira on Thursday, Dec. 8 from 4-7 p.m., with the funeral to follow on Friday, Dec. 9.