In a climate where franchises and big-box stores rule, it is rare to find a small locally-owned business that is still thriving after more than 60 years, yet Gaunce’s Cafe & Deli is doing it with style.
Gaunce’s success is due, in part, to their ability to keep up with the ever-changing times. The company’s roots can be traced back to 1954, when Hazel and Carlton “Smitty” Gaunce, opened Gaunce’s Market on Maple Street.
Originally solely a grocery store, Gaunce’s was a way for Carlton — who grew up during the severity of the Great Depression — to ensure he would always be able to keep food on the table.
Over the years, the market saw some changes, moving from Maple Street to Boone Avenue/Colby Road and then to Lexington Avenue. It was here that Hazel and Carlton’s sons, Miller and Jerry, came up with the idea to incorporate a deli area, a concept that hadn’t yet gained popularity at the time in Central Kentucky.
The biggest change came in 2003, when the Gaunce family made the decision to focus solely on the deli part of their business in order to stand out in a growing sea of superstores.
Third-generation owner Jon Gaunce runs the newest location on Bypass Road, where business is thriving.
“The decision to go to a deli-only business came from necessity,” Jon said. “The prevalence of box stores and mega-groceries forced mom-and-pop stores to change with the times or cease to exist. Our deli has always had a very loyal following, so it was only a natural progression to forego the grocery and focus our efforts into switching over to a full-time restaurant.”
Now, Jon and his wife, Tiffani, do their best to create an environment with a familial comfort, even though many of their 17 employees aren’t relatives. This refreshing approach to business means the deli has a welcoming air about it, and that’s not an accident.
“There is nothing better than looking out and seeing the groups of people gathered together for a meal,” Jon said. “From the quick bite with a co-worker on break to birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers, business meetings and more, we want our customers to feel like they have walked into a friend’s home, because in a lot of ways they have.”
Thanks to a menu of customizable sandwiches and soups, chips and salads, Gaunce’s offers something for both the foodie and the picky eater.
While the menu pretty much stays the same year-round, Jon and Tiffani aren’t opposed to crafting new dishes now and then; however, their standards are so high, some of these items never make it past the initial taste-test.
Their best-selling sandwich is a twist on a Kentucky favorite: The Inside-Out Hot Brown, consisting of Smitty’s country ham, Boar’s Head Ovengold turkey, Vermont cheddar, picante provolone, bacon, mayonnaise and tomato on a rosemary focaccia bread.
“Finding an item that has the ‘it’ factor can be like the proverbial needle in a haystack,” Jon said.
While it can’t be easy to mix small-town charm with the kind of business acumen it takes to ship their own Smitty’s sugar-cured country ham around the country, Gaunce’s prides itself on that balance, refusing to take shortcuts where quality is concerned — no matter how busy they may get — out of respect for their own legacy.
Yet Winchester isn’t the only city contributing to the deli’s success; walk into Gaunce’s and you will find Ale-8 products mingling with salt-rising bread and pies from Burke’s Bakery in Danville, Ruth Hunt Candies from Mount Sterling and Peg’s Pantry Jams, Jellies and Salsa from Paris, among other items.
Walking into the clean, bright cafe, visitors really get a sense that the Gaunce family takes pride in helping other Kentucky-based businesses succeed.
“I really don’t tend to think of the local restaurants as ‘competition’ per se,” Jon said. “We’re all out here trying to provide great dining options for Clark County. Successful small businesses are a barometer for the growth of a community. Winchester deserves for the entrepreneurs here to do well…they are part of what gives our town its own identity.” §