Biancke's Restaurant - Since 1894

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...[1970]..., “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 was Ann 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. 

Mrs. 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

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