Biancke's - One of Cynthiana's Oldest, Most Colorful Institutions
By Dal Taylor - reprinted with permission of Biancke’s Restaurant
(originally printed in the Cynthiana Kentuckian, February 19, 1970).
The Biancke saga
in Kentucky came to a beginning in 1890 when Guido Biancke took passage
from Italy for America. He left his home in Lucca, northwestern Italy,
and came to Richmond, Kentucky, where his brother-in-law, Joe
Guinchigliani, Sr., operated a restaurant, fruit and vegetable business.
After two years’ apprenticeship, he left his brother-in-law to return
to Lucca to claim his childhood sweetheart, Clementina Poppini, in
marriage. They returned to Richmond and soon afterward branched out on
their own, opening a combination restaurant and fruit stand on Pike
Street, in Cynthiana, in 1894. Their first
child, Amelia Whitaker, was born in Richmond in 1894 and her brother,
Joseph D., was born in Cynthiana on January 29, 1896. In the time that
has ensued from 1890 to......, “Biancke’s” has come to be a family
word in Harrison County. Clementina Biancke was quite a character.
She stayed in her business, literally never leaving the store. Although
it was only a block away, some say “Miss Tina” didn’t see the court
house until they moved from the Pike Street store to their present site
on Main Street which they bought from Randall Kerrick, April 5, 1930.Biancke’s Restaurant owner
Joe E. “Little Joe” Biancke with CHS seniors Becky Biancke and Jimmy
Williams. Photo, 1960, from The Bulldog ‘60. Miss Tina, before her
marriage to Guido, had worked with her sister who owned a dressmaking
establishment in Lucca, a few miles from Rome. Their hand needlework
and custom designing was sought by a great many women of fashion in
those days and, at times, Miss Tina would model these creations. They
may have been among the first of the fine Italian Courteriere which have
come to a place first, not second, now to those in Paris. Mr. Biancke
was a man of great musical talent. He taught violin and played with an
orchestra in Cincinnati and with our home town band. Some of the
members of that group were Lawrence (Sorghum) Fitzwater, Neil Robertson,
Mr. Biancke and one Mr. Mitchell. Mrs. Minerva Mickey, Miss Fannie
Whaley and Mr. Biancke were often in demand for weddings, receptions and
concerts at that time. The band used to follow the funeral procession
to the cemetery when someone of prominence in the community died, and,
I’ve been told, were quite subdued and decorous on the way out but
nearly always launched into livelier tunes on the return trip, much as
our jazz bands did in the deep south. Mrs. Biancke
continued to run the business after the death of her husband in 1909,
with the help of Joe and Amelia, until she died on June 30, 1952. I
have heard Joe and Amelia say they got their first lessons, in early
childhood, when they were required to polish all the fruit to a satiny
patina before arranging it in a neat display on the stands outside the
front door. The great purple grapes came packed in shredded cork and it
was one of their jobs to shake the grapes loose from the cork without
bruising them. There was a peanut roaster on the outside too, that had a
little twirling monkey rotating on its top. The smell of the fruit and
the fresh roasted peanuts made petty thieves out of half the kids in
the town. Joseph E. entered
into a partnership with his father and managed the restaurant. Joe E.
died in 1963. Joe’s son Harry went into the grocery business with his
father-in-law, Henry Ewing. For several years, Joe, his wife Ruby and
daughter Gina have been in charge. The large second floor dining room
was used for catered meetings and parties. My first real
awareness of Biancke’s began when I came to Cynthiana High School as a
freshman and spent the noon hour there eating lunch. That was a little
before the ever poplar hamburger and french fries came to be the
accepted school lunch, so I usually ate a ham sandwich on a bun, a
cherry coke, and a liberal dish of tutti-frutti ice cream topped with a
great gob of marshmallow
creme. Anyway, we country kids hadn’t heard of anything but hog
meat and fried chicken and since a chicken dinner cost thirty-five cents
in those days it was, for all practical purposes, out of our reach. I
guess I’d be safe in saying that in the past 50 years I have averaged at
least four meals a week at
Biancke’s, my home away from home.
The food has always been good but they haven’t found anyone since
Gracie Varner retired who could make biscuits like hers. Gracie weighed
about as much as a cake of soap after a hard day’s washing and to see
her handle that big mound of biscuit dough was a sight to behold.
Back in the old day there was a long line of soda “jerks”. Some of the
ones most remembered were “Rick” McClure, Billy Mitchell, Hussie Hicks,
John Clary and Newt
Juett. Jess Meeks worked there in one capacity or another from
the time he was twelve years old. After a stretch in the army in World
War II, he returned to work at Biancke’s until the time of his death.
During this time there was a long line of employees I like to remember.
Nellie Lawrence, Mary Jenkins, Mrs. Howard, Gracie Varner, Mrs. McClure
and Ada Lee Fitzwater, the queen of the yeast roll clan. Then there
Ecklar, who, for 16 years until the time of her death, opened the
store for the breakfast crowd with a big smile and a new joke. Many
waitresses have come and gone but Brownie Copes,
Iva Ritchie and Carrie and Bart are still with us.
In the old days the din and the noise, provoked almost entirely by the
Jones, Taylor and McIlvain boys, nearly had Miss Tina in stitches.
While she waited at the cash register some few would make their way
outside but in time she caught up with them and made them pay.
Yes, Biancke’s is an institution and we who have been a part of it all
these years hope it will continue to be the success story it has always
been, the meeting place for friends while dining in an atmosphere of
dignity and good old pan fried chicken.
Guido Biancke, or Tina as she was known, sweeps the pavement in front
of Biancke's Restaurant sometime after the move from the original
restaurant, fruit and vegetable store on Pike Street.
Jodi (in center), a waitress, and Stella (on right) in front of the restaurant, on the corner of Main Street and Pleasant.
Standing to the left of an old peanut roaster is Guido Biancke. In the background is Bianckes' restuarant which was established on Pike Street in 1894. The man to the left of Biancke is not identifed.
Harry & Jodi
in front of the restaurant.
Amelia behind the cash register on Main Street.
102 South Main Street
Cynthiana, KY 41031
Mon - Sat: 7AM - 9PM
Sun: 9AM - 2PM