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New ownership is coming to Gus Deraco’s restaurant at 714 Cumberland St., Lebanon.
Just a couple of months ago, as LebTown reported, the restaurant was due to close its doors.
Read More: Gus Deraco’s to close March 31; new operator sought for longtime eatery
At the time, operators had not found a buyer for the place, or anyone to run it.
Now, none other than Gus and Maxine Deraco’s daughter is stepping up to reopen the iconic eatery that’s been so much a part of the downtown Lebanon scene for nearly a century.
Traci Deraco Ginnona and her husband, Ron Ginnona, are preparing to reopen the restaurant, which had been in the family for decades, prior to the recent closing. LebTown talked to them recently about their plans, and the legacy of Deraco’s in the community.
From then till now
Deraco’s Hoagy Lunch Shop opened in the 1950s at 322 S. 10th St.
Food items included ice cream, sodas, and hotdogs, as seen in advertisements from Lebanon Daily News archives.
In 1978, Deraco’s moved to South 8th Street. That was one of several locations where he operated over the years.
Timeline of Deraco’s in Lebanon
- Hoagy Mobile Lunch Wagon (1950 to 1975)
- Hoagy Lunch Shop, 322 S. 10th St (1952 to 1954)
- Hoagy Luncheonette (Rear) 814 N. 7th St. (1954 to 1955)
- Hoagy Lunch & Grocery Store 39 Klein Ave (1955 to 1957)
- Concession Stand at Annville-Cleona Pool (1961 to 1970)
- Concession Stand at Coleman’s Park (1975 to 1975)
- Restaurant Manager TTMA 78 and home-based wholesale Italian sandwich business (1975 to 1978)
- Gus Deraco’s Italian Sandwiches (1978 to 1994/1999)
More recently, the restaurant made the move to Cumberland Street.
Some residents remember the early days of Deraco’s, when the founder drove a Studebaker hearse called the “Hoagy Mobile Lunch Wagon” and ran concessions at a local pool and a local park while also running his sandwich shop downtown.
His daughter Traci remembers, too.
“My father started working in food service after World War II,” she said, noting that Deraco came home in ’46 and helped start the Lebanon Rams sports team back up.
Read More: The Boro Rams, the Bologna Bowl, and the heyday of Lebanon’s independent football teams
The legend, she said, is that he went to Philadelphia, probably with a sports team, and had a hoagy there.
“He said: I can do this,” she said, describing how Deraco’s signature sandwich was born, in a time before Subway, Jersey Mike’s, or Jimmy John’s, with its own ingredient list, and its own dash of flavor.
A family business
Traci remembers working in the old Deraco’s in the 1970s. Before that, she remembers going with her father on deliveries, and having vendors come to the house with shipments of ingredients.
“We had great memories – it was a really good crew,” she said.
She also remembers where a lot of the ingredients came from, such as ATV bakery rolls, and a business named Spungin’s in Harrisburg that sold a lot of the meats. As a matter of fact, ATV has remained Deraco’s roll supplier all these years later, and Traci said the restaurant will continue to use their rolls once it reopens.
In those days, she said, you could run wholesale operations out of your home, or call in orders on the telephone from paper sheets, which the family did, in the general course of running a restaurant in the analog age.
Selling food and fun
Traci also remembers a lot of her dad’s interesting entrepreneurial decisions and how he kept his shop popular with those of all ages.
“He was always good at that sort of thing,” she said.
For example, she said, Gus at one point bought big rubber balls wholesale, and sold them along with food products at his retail locations.
She remembers going along on deliveries to Lebanon Valley College.
“He would drive to the dorms,” she said, remembering walking down a long sidewalk, Deraco balancing the box with one arm over his head.
Another one of Gus’s big ideas was giving out free tickets to young people at Rams games, and offering prizes.
Once, she said, he gave one lucky kid a Shetland pony.
“Imagine that kid walking home from the game,” she said, marveling at Gus’s ability to think up the kinds of grand offerings that would really astound locals.
Another big memory Traci has is going with her father in the hoagy wagon to pick up stranded people in the Agnes flood of 1972.
“McDonald’s was underwater,” she said, remembering stopping for bedraggled citizens who were in water up to their knees, and taking them to places like the local hospital.
Her dad, she said, had a heart for the community, along with a head for business.
As for big customers, she remembers workers from Bell Telephone across the street, and Empire Beauty School and the Army Navy store, coming in. Gus also sold to a lot of shift workers at Bethlehem Steel’s Lebanon plant, which closed in the ’80s, the Lebanon Steel Foundry, and Cleaver-Brooks, where he would take his lunch wagon.
Now, Traci and Ron want to build on Gus Deraco’s legacy with the new restaurant, which is slated to open up in mid- to late June.
It’s one of at least two local businesses where a local legacy name is being extended: in talking about the potential for the continuity of local business through another generation, Traci and Ron cited the Wertz Candies shop, where the business ended up being sold to Rob and Lindsay Wertz, a local couple who coincidentally share a last name with the previous owners but aren’t related to them.
Read More: Wertz Candies is sold, and the new owners are … some more Wertzes
As for Deraco’s, Ron and Traci want to participate in Lebanon’s First Friday events.
“We have some ideas for that,” Ron said.
Traci and Ron also stressed that their plan includes adding some surprises to the menu, and getting invested in the community.
Many of the favorites, she said, will stay, and some vendor choices will also harken back to her dad’s earlier days.
One thing the original Deraco’s didn’t have back in the 1950s is a social media presence. On the shop’s Facebook page, you can see the announcements of what’s coming soon as Deraco’s comes back online.
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Editor’s note: This article was updated to include additional information from the family, and correct a couple typos.