Anyone reading tea leaves in 1985 might have ruled out Jan Alan Zarkin and his 11 partners as likely restaurateurs when the group proposed turning a taproom at 23rd and Aspen Streets in Fairmount into a trendy eatery.
Mr. Zarkin, after all, had had a long career as a systems analyst at Philadelphia Electric Co., not in food.
His partners were pharmaceutical workers in search of a watering hole. And it wasn't clear that the corner space - a bar since 1915 - was destined for anything greater, according to Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan.
In 2007 though, LaBan found Zarkin's creation - Rembrandt's Restaurant & Bar - on the cusp of becoming "an all-purpose neighborhood megalith."
"A large new kitchen is making fabulous wood-fired pizzas, a new upstairs banquet room offers a stunning view of Center City, and there's even a smoke-free bar/cafe next door," LaBan wrote on Oct. 28 of that year.
Mr. Zarkin, 73, a Harrisburg native transplanted to Philadelphia, died Thursday, Dec. 1, of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at his home.
He had been the restaurant's managing partner for 25 years, first buying out his 11 partners, who had each put up $10,000, and finally selling the eatery in 2010.
Three years before the sale, LaBan wrote that Rembrandt's was closing the competition gap with its neighbor and rival, London Grill.
"The food could be more consistent, no doubt," he wrote. "But I was constantly surprised by the creativity and quality delivered for less than $20 an entree."
Alec Terry, the current general manager, said the restaurant is still operating according to Mr. Zarkin's model.
"There's a main dining room and a cafe, and a banquet room on the second floor," said Terry. "Our clientele are visitors from the Art Museum and neighborhood regulars." Food favorites are pizza, burgers, and wings.
Mr. Zarkin was around a lot during the handoff, but after he became ill, he would drop by the restaurant once a month. Despite his dwindling presence, Mr. Zarkin will be missed, Terry said.
"Thirteen years ago, he gave me my first job," Terry said.
Before adopting Philadelphia as his home, Mr. Zarkin served in the Army. He graduated from West Nottingham Academy in Colora, Md., and from Pennsylvania Military College, now Widener University.
Mr. Zarkin loved to sing karaoke and dance. He put together a Bob Dylan retrospective at Rembrandt's. He was part of a group that celebrated Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary.
"He was well-loved in Fairmount," said his wife, Joann Frezel Zarkin.
Besides his wife of 26 years, he is survived by a brother, and nieces and nephews.
A graveside service will be at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, at West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd.
Contributions may be made to the ALS Association at www.als.org or Penn Wissahickon Hospice through Penn Home Care and Hospice Services-Development, 3535 Market St., Suite 730, Philadelphia 19104, with check made payable to Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania and "Hospice" on the memo line.