Will you support independent, non-partisan journalism?

Become a champion of local news and unlock additional benefits as a LebTown member, like exclusive members-only emails, access to comments, invitations to members-only events, and more.

Make an impact. Cancel anytime.

Already a member? Login here

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.

The interior of Gus Deraco’s on Cumberland Street. (Justin Stoltzfus)

A legacy in Lebanon

Deraco started the restaurant right around the middle of the 20th century.

Advertisement in a 1951 edition of the Lebanon Daily News for a predecessor of today’s Gus Deraco’s. Deraco may have been the first restraunteur to introduce “hoagys” to Lebanon County, as later advertisements would claim.

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.

A poster at Gus Deraco’s on Cumberland Street showing the history of the Lebanon Rams, a semi-pro football team organized by the late Gus Deraco, founder of the restaurant that still bears his name. (Justin Stoltzfus)
Gus Deraco joins Al Ceresini in welcoming Joe Paterno to town for a visit in 1975.

Downtown eats

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.

Questions about this story? Suggestions for a future LebTown article? Reach our newsroom using this contact form and we’ll do our best to get back to you.

Do you want to see more from LebTown?

Support local news. Cancel anytime.

Already a member? Login here

Free news isn’t cheap. If you value the journalism LebTown provides to the community, then help us make it sustainable by becoming a champion of local news. You can unlock additional coverage for the community by supporting our work with a one-time contribution, or joining as a monthly or annual member. You can cancel anytime.


LebTown membership required to comment.

Already a member? Login here

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments