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Lifetimes: Rudy Dorner was a fierce advocate for his clients – Waterloo Region Record

2008 Rudy Dorner stands in his home office in the Doon area of Kitchener in 2008. Dorner helped clients who wanted to sell their business.

  • 2008 Rudy Dorner stands in his home office in the Doon area of Kitchener in 2008. Dorner helped clients who wanted to sell their business.

  • John Bergen (left) and Rudy Dorner, partners in the City Café in Kitchener, pose outside the Cambridge City Café in Cambridge, in 2007. Dorner is holding a bus fare box, which customers will put their money in, just as they do in the Kitchener restaurant.

By Valerie HillSpecial to the Record

Mon., April 11, 20224 min. read

When lawyer George Crossman met Rudy Dorner, he knew the business broker was unique.

He was smart, capable but had a determination that later in their business relationship sometimes ended with slammed phones. Rudy could be infuriating, admitted George, a mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer who worked with Rudy on at least 50 deals where Rudy would represent clients wanting to sell their business. Rudy was a fierce advocate for his clients, unwilling to yield if it meant the deal wasn’t in his client’s favour.

Many former clients came forward after learning of Rudy’s death, to say how their lives were so much better because of Rudy’s skills, George said.

Rudy’s efforts were perhaps most obvious in Waterloo Region’s three City Café Bakeries. It was Rudy who helped his friend, John Bergen, find the partners to finance the opening of the bakeries. Both locations operate on a cash-only basis and on the honour system: take what you want, do your own math and pop the money into a box. If you need change, flag down a staffer who is likely busy making pizza or baking bagels. It’s an unusual business model, but then Rudy was an unusual guy.

When John got the idea of starting a bakery around 2000, John looked to the business-minded Rudy for support.

“I’m his godfather,” Rudy once joked to a reporter. “John has the necessary talent, but he doesn’t have the business background.”

John had previously owned a ceramics company that was failing. “At that point it was a rescue operation,” admitted John.

Rudy stepped in to advise, to encourage and ultimately to turn the business around so John could sell it for a profit.

Rudy had way of looking for patterns in how humans behave, John said. Rudy, one of the partners, thought the cafés, with their wood-fired pizza ovens, would bring a New York City vibe to the region.

“I earned my ‘street MBA’ from him,” said John, adding that he learned so much about business under Rudy’s guidance.

At the time John wanted to start up the bakeries, Rudy owned Corporate Division Mergers & Acquisitions, a company that raised money for mergers and acquisitions. John’s business was small, but Rudy didn’t turn his back on a friend, particularly when he could see potential.

John’s brother, David Bergen, knew Rudy from their decades of friendship. David is a dentist with a talent for baking bread, and was the inspiration for the bakery. David also knew a side of Rudy not often displayed in his work life: that of a prankster.

Rudy was rather fond of explosions, particularly fireworks. He once set up a row of fireworks along the street in front of George’s Toronto home, a bang-up celebration for a milestone birthday. He once also sourced gunpowder to set off a big boom from the Waterloo Park cannon. But it was New Year’s Eve, there was noise everywhere, so the boom didn’t attract unwanted attention.

Then there was the time Rudy put new signs over the “Welcome to Kitchener” signs in five locations. His version read, “Welcome to Berlin.” He also created a fictitious organization, Berlin Reform Association, and presented the city with a list of demands.

“It was taken seriously,” said David. “He was really just having fun.”

Rudy was born Sept. 4, 1948, in Germany, the youngest of three. His family immigrated in 1954, moving to Kitchener.

He left university before graduating and took a job driving a truck, then became a journeyman electrician. Rudy later took a job with Babcock & Wilcox, where his abilities were quickly recognized. Rudy was promoted to chief corporate planner. He later left to form his own company.

“He was a really talented guy,” said David. “He would sometimes just stop and reinvent himself.”

Rudy had been married for seven years. The couple didn’t have children. He married a second time in 2017, to Patricia Raby, who happened to seek refuge at the café during a winter storm three years earlier.

Among Rudy’s many passions was motorcycles, a hobby he shared with David. Together they toured North America, focusing on small-town life. Rudy was interested in the locals’ stories.

He also had a keen interest in astronomy and was a respected member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Rudy founded the Dorner Telescope Museum, which will eventually open at the society’s offices in Toronto.

With such a rich and varied background, it’s not surprising that David thought his friend “a really complicated guy.” Rudy was lots of fun but also aggravating.

“He could ignite a roaring argument for the sheer joy of arguing,” said David. “He was an original guy, one of a kind.”