When Beth Hanna locks up the door on Hanna’s on Lime at the end of the month, it will close the door on one of the longest continuously operated restaurant spots in Lexington.
Hanna estimates the building at 214 South Limestone has been a restaurant for 60 years. She bought the restaurant 16 years ago from Linda Gallagher, who had Linda’s Sandwich Shop for 23 years. Before that it was Lawrence’s Sandwich Shop.
“Before that I think it was a tailor’s shop,” Hanna said. After the end of August, it will be vacant. Hanna announced earlier this month that she will be closing her popular restaurant.
Although the restaurant changed hands, many things stayed the same, including the hand-made white, wheat and cinnamon raisin bread in vintage double-long pans.
“Linda still makes the bread for me,” Hanna said. The previous owner, Lawrence Sheets, taught her how to make it. “It’s just another added thing, like hand-grating the hash browns and fresh squeezing the orange juice.”
Those were the kind of touches that turned casual diners into regulars over the years.
People like Mayor Linda Gorton, who said she will be at a loss after Hanna’s closes on Aug. 30.
“What I’ve really gotten into lately is her salads for lunch, and they deliver,” Gorton said. “I don’t know ... I’m not kidding. She made the best chef’s salad.”
Situated between the University of Kentucky campus and downtown Lexington, Hanna’s became a meeting place for local professors, attorneys, judges, officials of all stripes and just people.
The menu was simple, with no item over $10, Hanna said. Just breakfast and lunch, no dinner. With only about 35 seats, 40 if you pulled tables out from the walls, the restaurant had only three employees: Hanna, who opened up and did all the cooking and table service in the mornings; Sue Johnson who cooked at lunch and Joyce Odean who served at lunch when Hanna dashed out to deliver lunch orders.
Hanna, who had a career as a Toyota project manager before she went to culinary school, said over the years people asked when she was going to move into a larger space. But she never wanted to. This was just the perfect size, something she had noticed when she used to come to Linda’s for sandwiches.
“It’s just a labor of love,” Hanna said. “For about the first six years, I was a nervous wreck, thinking, ‘what if nobody comes in?’”
She did change a few things when she opened in October of 2003. She and her father, longtime newspaper editor Bill Hanna, scrubbed and spiffed up the place with new paint. And she started delivery. In 2004, she added brunch on Saturday mornings. But it was so popular she decided to stop, after she realized she didn’t want to work six days a week.
UK opera director Everett McCorvey still remembers it fondly.
“I was with a walking group of three or four men that met there regularly on Saturdays until Beth stopped serving on Saturdays,” he said in an email. “It was wonderful. My favorite was the spinach and goat cheese omelet. We met there for four or five years before she stopped serving on Saturdays. We came in right after walking so maybe we ran everyone away! We loved it there!”
In 2015, she dropped Mondays. But business stayed strong Tuesday through Friday, with lots of lunch deliveries as well.
As Hanna nears her 65th birthday, she knew she was ready to leave while she was young enough to enjoy retirement.
As for what she will do next, Hanna has one idea: “I’m going to out to lunch! I’m going to meet friends for lunch, which I don’t ever get to do.”
She didn’t try to sell the business because of uncertainty over the future of the building.
Rev. Hank Ellington, the associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, which owns the property, said they have not made a decision yet about what to do with the building. It includes apartments upstairs, which are currently empty.
He said tearing it down for parking is one possibility but the church may wait until it has a new permanent pastor before making a final decision.
“We are sensitive to the needs of the Limestone corridor,” Ellington said. “We also are open to the possibility of its use for a ministry. We want to serve the interests of the church and the community.”
Like a lot of people, Ellington said the church will miss Hanna. “She’s been a wonderful person for us to work with and the staff often would walk down there for lunch. I’m aware of the importance of that spot for many folks for lunch.”
And breakfast. Lexington CPA Dee Cranfill said that his group of downtown professionals, “mostly lawyers and judges, with the occasional insurance man and CPA thrown in mostly to keep track of the score,” has been gathering there for breakfast for years. Hanna knows all their orders, and “deviating is discouraged,” he said. But that’s OK because the food is so good.
“Beth is a really really good cook. The only reason I don’t go for lunch is I can’t afford the calories,” Cranfill said. “Beth is a treasure. I’m sick she’s leaving but delighted she’s going.”