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Locals only have a few more days to get a bite to eat from a restaurant that’s been in Lebanon for the better part of a century.
Gus Deraco’s is closing March 31, after decades of service and a reputation for cheesesteaks and community involvement.
LebTown stopped in this week to talk to Sandy Wentzel and her daughter Jenn McCurdy, who took over Gus Deraco’s from its eponymous founder. Wentzel started in 1995, when Gus Deraco and his wife retired from the business, and McCurdy came on board in 2000.
A legacy in Lebanon
Deraco started the restaurant right around the middle of the 20th century.
Known for his “hoagie wagon,” Deraco served customers working at Bethlehem Steel and others in the area, and eventually branched out into various places around the community, offering concessions.
McCurdy said Gus’s first hoagie wagon was a 1934 Studebaker hearse that people came to associate with his sandwiches. Over time, his fare would turn up at places like Annville Pool, where Deraco operated from 1961 to 1970, and a Coleman Park concession stand that ran from 1965 to 1975.
Deraco also contributed to dozens of different Lebanon Rams squads in his roles as, consecutively, organizer, quarterback, and longtime general manager of the former semi-pro team, as evidenced today by a large poster with several pictures that still hangs on the restaurant’s wall – just one of several athletic endeavors Deraco volunteered for over the decades in his lifetime of community service.
In 1978, McCurdy said, Deraco opened a location at 27 S. Eighth St. The restaurant moved to the current Cumberland Street spot only a few years ago.
McCurdy said Deraco’s is primarily known for its cheesesteaks.
“You say cheesesteak, we’re kind of synonymous with that,” she said, adding that Italian hoagies are also a big seller. Deraco’s has also done a good business for breakfast, with the usual menu – eggs, toast and home fries with bacon, ham, sausage or scrapple, as well as pancakes, which some say are the best in the county.
Now, McCurdy said, her family’s operation of the restaurant has come to an end.
“It’s just kind of a waiting game,” McCurdy said of the current situation where the family has yet to ink a deal with a buyer.
As for the reasons for the closure, she cited staff attrition, where one worker went on maternity leave. Wentzel, she said, is ready to retire, and both agreed on closing the doors.
“I’m ready to do something else,” she said.
McCurdy also said she’s thankful to the restaurant’s regular local patrons, and will miss them.
“They are sad to see us go,” she said. “We’ve watched their children grow up. But, it’s time.”
There has been some interest in the restaurant, she said, and the family is leaving the restaurant equipment in place thinking that a buyer is likely to resume operations there.
“It’s ready to go,” she added, saying the place needs a younger generation in charge. She mentioned a family with adult children as being the perfect owners to take over.
LebTown will be watching for a new restaurant operator to hang out a shingle in the Gus Deraco’s location, but as of the end of this month, expect to see a “closed” sign on the door.
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