Hidden Cleveland: Gardner’s Market gets new owners
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG  Banner Staff Writer
Mar 21, 2014 | 974 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
GARDNER’S MARKET is now operating under new ownership.  At back, from left, are assistant manager Justin Peters and owner/managers Jimmy and Tonya Holsomback. With them are the owners’ sons, Rhett, left, and Dean.  Banner photo, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
GARDNER’S MARKET is now operating under new ownership. At back, from left, are assistant manager Justin Peters and owner/managers Jimmy and Tonya Holsomback. With them are the owners’ sons, Rhett, left, and Dean. Banner photo, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
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A restaurant which has welcomed visitors in downtown Cleveland for more than 20 years has reopened under new ownership after its original owners decided to retire.

Gardner’s Market, a delicatessen located at 262 Broad St. N.W., has been purchased by Jimmy and Tonya Holsomback.

The restaurant opened in 1992 after original owners Bill and Billie Hain moved to Cleveland from Miami. Over the years, the restaurant became a popular downtown spot. Last May, Bill said he estimated that the deli located near landmarks like the Bradley County Courthouse saw between 300 and 400 customers a day.

The Holsombacks were some of those loyal customers, and they made it a goal of theirs to purchase the place in the event its owners decided to retire.

“We’ve dreamed about this for a long time,” Tonya said.

She said she and her husband told Bill they would be interested in purchasing the restaurant someday, and they ultimately did. On Sunday, Jan. 19, the deli officially reopened its doors after the Hains retired in late 2013.

It can be a challenge for a new owner to take on a business that is already well known in a community, and the Holsombacks’ strategy has been to make only minor changes, like extending the hours. The deli is now open until 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and until 4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, instead of closing around 2 or 3 each afternoon.

Tonya said purchasing the restaurant meant they gained access to all of the Hains’ recipes. All of the menu items that made the deli popular remain on the menu, while the new owners have only added to the number of items offered. New items like wrap sandwiches join old favorites like the chicken salad sandwich, the chili and the vegetable soup.

In addition to a traditional deli counter, Gardner’s Market’s walls have long been lined with unique grocery items for sale, many of them imported from other countries. While the Holsombacks plan to keep as many of the same items stocked as possible, Tonya said they will likely be adding to the selection. One thing they are looking into is adding a selection of gluten-free items.

The order of things behind the counter is in the process of being changed to help with the speed of service, but things like the decor and the music from the 1940s and ’50s playing softly in the background still hearken to the past.

“We’re looking to carry on the tradition,” Jimmy said. “If we wanted to change it, we would have started our own.” 

The Holsombacks said they are planning to stay around “for the long haul.” 

Jimmy is a Cleveland native who at one point lived near the Hains. He said he would sometimes even mow their lawn in exchange for Gardner’s Market sandwiches. Tonya, who is originally from Mount Union, Pa., first became acquainted with the deli when she moved to Cleveland to attend Lee University. While at Lee, she became a Gardner’s employee.

Tonya left Lee after a year to transfer to a college where she could study culinary arts. She said she met Jimmy in Cleveland after she had already moved away, while visiting some family who lived in the city.

Over the years, both gained experience in the restaurant industry. When given the chance to purchase their favorite delicatessen, they decided to pursue it. Now, they’re trying to get to know their customers like the Hains did, and Tonya said that is going well so far.

“We want everyone to know how grateful we are for them accepting us,” she said.

Though some customers have told her they had believed Gardner’s Market was still closed, Tonya said business has remained steady. There is still a lunchtime rush.

Jimmy said customer service will remain a top priority for them, just as the Hains said it had for them. He described Gardner’s as a casual place where the menu items can be customized to diners’ liking, and, even if something a customer wants is not on the menu, that input will be important when deciding on future additions to the menu.

And that’s how the family hopes things will continue to be for years and years to come. The Holsombacks’ young sons, Rhett and Dean, have been helping them at the deli after school and keeping a close eye on how things are done. Rhett eagerly spoke about plans to maybe open a second location one day — after he’s old enough to be a business owner.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” Jimmy said. “We’re planning to retire at Bill and Billie’s age.”