Keeping the Tide In
Luke A. Dudek was forever proud to work at Windows on the World, where he was the food and beverage controller. He had a knack for numbers. Naturally, given the environment, he delighted in fine wine, and it was his custom when his wine glass was empty to remark to the waiter, "My tide is out."
But his special joy was Coqui Designs, the flower business he owned with his life partner, George A. Cuellar. (Coqui is Mr. Cuellar's nickname.) Mr. Cuellar operated the place and was the creative mind behind the designs they did for stores like Bloomingdale's and Gucci, and for countless weddings. The numbers, though, were the province of Mr. Dudek, 50. "He did the books," Mr. Cuellar said. "He did my taxes. He even delivered flowers on the weekends and did weddings. I called him the core of the apple."
The two had always wanted to own their own building. In May, they bought a building in Cedar Grove, N.J., to move the store to. They spent the summer renovating. To do the final touches, Mr. Dudek recently devoted a week's vacation to the store. His first day back at Windows on the World was Sept. 11.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on October 13, 2001.
Luke A. Dudek, 50, fine wine and flowers
By day, Luke A. Dudek was an executive -- the food and beverage controller for Windows on the World atop One World Trade Center.
By night, Mr. Dudek worked at his own business, Coqui Design Inc. of Cedar Grove, a well-known flower shop he and his partner, George Cuellar, started 15 years ago.
On weekends, the Livingston resident shed the corporate suit and tie for jeans or a jogging suit to deliver flowers for weddings or floral displays.
"This was his hobby that he really loved," said Cuellar, Mr. Dudek's partner for 20 years. "He would set up weddings and parties and do everything that you could think of. After work he would stop by the shop and do the books."
Cuellar said his partner loved the business so much that after years of renting space, this year they bought their own property for the business. He said Mr. Dudek spent a week of vacation in September completing renovations.
His first day back to work in New York was Sept. 11. Mr. Dudek, 50, died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. A Mass of Resurrection was offered Monday in Our Lady of The Lake Church in Verona.
"He finally had his dream come true, but he never returned to it," Cuellar said.
"I owe part of my life to him," Cuellar said. "Part of who I am today is from sharing my life with him."
Mr. Dudek was born in New York and grew up in Livingston, where he graduated from Livingston High School in 1968. He graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1973 with a degree in psychology. His major was organizational management and quantitative analysis. Mr. Dudek also did post-graduate study in accounting and computer technology.
In 1985, Mr. Dudek and Cuellar opened the flower shop. Over the next 15 years, the store's reputation grew and its designs have been featured in bridal magazines and displayed at upscale stores like Bloomingdales, Louis Vuitton and Gucci.
Mr. Dudek traveled extensively on business, having gone to the United Kingdom, Mexico, Canada and Spain.
When he was home, Cuellar said Mr. Dudek found it therapeutic to tinker with cars and was handy around the house.
"He could take a car apart and put it back together," Cuellar said. "There was a Lincoln Continental in the driveway waiting for him to put back together."
Mr. Dudek, a connoisseur of fine wine, foods and Cuban cigars, loved his two Dalmatians --Barney and Gypsy, Cuellar said.
Profile by Barry Carter published in THE STAR-LEDGER.