Tuesday was not business as usual at Lena's Cafe.
Employees at the popular Italian restaurant were mourning the loss of co-owner Blaine F. Sidler, 66, who died unexpectedly on Saturday.
"Everybody is very upset," said Casey Higgins, Sidler's nephew and co-owner.
"We all loved him," said an employee who didn't give her name.
Sidler joined the family business in 1974 when Lena's Cafe, owned by his mother, Lena, moved from the corner of 17th Street and Eighth Avenue to 2000 Eighth Ave.
In 1985, his twin brother, Duane Sidler joined the family business after retiring after 10 years of service as a Pennsylvania state trooper. Duane died in 2004 after an extended illness.
Mike Frederick, owner of Lawruk Machine and Tool Co., was a personal friend of Sidler as well as a regular customer at Lena's.
"He would shake everybody's hand and ask how you were doing. He was a nice guy," Frederick said. "He loved to go to Sicily. He knew what restaurants to go to. He was a food connoisseur. He made all of the homemade pies; they were the best. His coconut cream and pecan pies were very good."
Joe Stevens Sr. and Terry Goldstein had known Sidler since they were kids growing up in the Llyswen section of Altoona. Both are regular customers at Lena's.
"He was a hard worker and a lot of fun. He was a real maitre d' as well as a chef. He would come out and talk with you and thank you for being there," Stevens said. "He was very personable and was very fun loving. He was a character."
Goldstein played Connie Mack baseball on the 14th Ward team with the Sidler twins. They graduated from Altoona Area High School in 1965.
"We were typical kids. We just enjoyed playing baseball and hanging out with friends," Goldstein said. "Blaine and Duane were good guys, fun-loving guys who enjoyed life."
Rocco Alianiello, division president of U.S. Foodservice, knew Sidler through business and socially.
"He loved people. He was passionate about food and his customers. He always took the time to come around and talk to his customers. He made sure they got everything they wanted. It was like going to your grandma's for dinner," Alianiello said.
"My favorite was his linguini with clam sauce. He said it was his mother's recipe, and it was the best I ever ate."
Ralph Pacifico, secretary/treasurer of Pacifico Bakery, got to know Sidler through business dealings.
"He was great. He was very personable. He would come out and talk to everyone," Pacifico said. "He made you feel not like a customer, but more like part of the family."
Richard Fiore Sr., president of Leonard S. Fiore Inc., a longtime friend, said Sidler had another passion besides cooking.
"He was a big time hunter. He did a lot of hunting. He was a mule deer hunter. He had some unbelievable mule deer trophies. That was his passion," Fiore said.
Sidler is survived by his wife, Jana, a teacher at Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School.
"The BG community is saddened to hear of Blaine's death. Both Blaine and Jana have been and remain a very important part of our school community, and our love, prayers and support go out to them," Principal Joan Donnelly said. "We will gather to pray for the repose of Blaine's soul and for the strength and healing of Jana."
Friends will be received from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at The Stevens Mortuary Inc., 1421 Eighth Ave., where a vigil for the deceased will be held. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church. Committal will be at Calvary Cemetery with military honors.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.