Those three decades of
tradition are coming to an end, with the official sale of the deli Oct. 1.
With a heavy heart, Lynn Gonsalves said Wednesday, Sept. 19, that selling and slowing down their lives had long been the couple’s plan. She said she and her husband decided recently to see if there was a purchasing interest out there, but they were warned not to expect a response for a year or two.
Within a month, however, a pair of sisters from the Bay Area made them an offer.
After the initial shock, she said, they had to consider what it meant to sell a place they have called home all these years.
“It feels like we’ve invited people into our living room for the last 32 years,” she said. “Everyone has been so
welcoming. Tracy has been amazing to us. We couldn’t have asked for a better ride.”
The Gonsalveses are looking forward to a future with more family time. With three married daughters, three sons-in-law and three grandchildren, they plan to take it easy for the first time in years.
“This (Gerard’s) is our heart, soul, life,” she said, “but with kids, there are no do-overs. Family is the most important. You don’t get to be grandparents twice.”
News of the sale created a sense of sadness among customers enjoying their sandwiches and hot meals Thursday, Sept. 20.
“That’s shocking,” said Mary Hernandez. “It’s sad to see a longtime friend leave. It’s the freshest sandwich in town — never disappointed.”
Greg Gillespie said his 17-year-old son, Kurtis, had come from Oak Grove and wanted to eat at Gerard’s.
“I’ve been coming here since 1999,” Greg Gillespie said, “and he’s been coming since he was a boy. I love this place. It’s sad.”
The Gonsalveses purchased the site of Gerard’s Deli when they were both 22 years old in 1980. It then housed a smaller ice cream and candy shop called Kreme & Kandy, next door to Tracy Typewriter at 939 Central Ave.
The couple quickly transformed the space to accommodate their dream, a deli restaurant. Within five years, they expanded the business with the purchase of the typewriter shop, adding a full kitchen and hot-plate section to create the Gerard’s layout that exists today.
“We’ve watched generations (grow up),” Lynn Gonsalves said. “People that worked for us come in with kids, and some with grandkids.”
Eight-year employee Gigi Correll said she calls Gerard’s “the heart of Tracy.”
“People come here to talk, laugh, vent and mourn,” she said. “I’m happy for them, but for the rest of us, it’s hard.”
Other longtime staff members include Louie Laura, who has worked at the deli for 27 years, and Junior Kennedy and Susan Rodarte, 18-year employees.
Gerard’s is one of a few family-owned downtown businesses to remain a local destination for more than 20 years, along with Caldron’s Jewelers, 907 Central Ave., and Richard’s Men’s Wear, 70 W. 10th St.
Lynn Gonsalves said the deli’s success came from hard work and dedication.
“We worked hard — that’s our mantra,” she said. “We do everything with the best of our ability. Quality with great service.”
She said the sign hanging on the restaurant wall coveys the true feeling the Gonsalveses have for their loyal customer base: “It’s been a pleasure, if not an honor.”
The new owners are two sisters from Northern California, whose names have not been released.
Lynn Gonsalves said they will arrive in October to work with the deli’s founders for a two-week transition. The sisters, who have 13 years of restaurant experience, appear to be set to keep the business name and maintain the downtown deli tradition with the purchase of everything inside the restaurant.
Quirky touches fill the space, from a wall covered with customers’ business cards and handwritten notes to sports memorabilia and celebrity posters — including one of Farrah Fawcett in her iconic bathing suit — from the era when Gerard’s began.
The only things that will go home with the retiring couple, Lynn Gonsalves said, are the handmade signs inside the office that announced one-day closures for the celebration of a daughter’s wedding. And, of course, lots of memories.
Among a family that doesn’t seek the spotlight, the sale has been heralded
with little fanfare. But as Lynn Gonsalves worked behind the deli counter Thursday, she couldn’t escape customers’ repeated well wishes and expressions of sorrow.
“It doesn’t feel like 32 years,” she said. “Time just flies. It’s been amazing, and I’d do it again, all over again.”