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Celebrating 25 years of business in Cynthiana

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By Ben Hyatt

 

Leono’s will ring in the new year with a 25th anniversary celebration week filled with daily specials and pizza drawings for supporting customers.

Charlie and Maribeth Thomas continue to be amazed with the overwhelming support that their local family restaurant receives year in and out.

Shortly after college in 1985, Charlie took a trip to the Ammerman’s Harrison County Tobacco Warehouse to sell his tobacco but came away with more than just a check for his crop.

“Bob had come over to me and we began talking,” recalled Charlie. “After he heard that I had over five years of experience in the pizza business, he asked if I would be interested in starting one with him.”

Ammerman, at the time, owned a building located on US 27, just north of Church Street, which housed several previous restaurants.

After a few repairs and coordinations, The Pizza Place of Cynthiana was opened.

“It was pretty successful,” said Charlie. “We had plans to expand it and make it bigger, but Bob later decided that he was not really interested in expansion at that time.”

In May of 1985, Charlie left the site in order to pursue other business opportunities before coming full circle in the fall of 1987.

“Around October of 1987, Charlie approached Bob with the intentions of buying out the business that he and Bob had started,” explained Maribeth. “We bought the business and changed the name to Leono’s.”

Maribeth laughed when asked how the small-town restaurant came about its name.

“Charlie’s middle name is Leon,” laughed Maribeth. “We thought we would put the name to good use and call the place Leono’s.”

For the next 18 years the Thomases delighted the community with their savory dishes that became well-known beyond the lines of Harrison County.

“Those first couple of years were hard at times,” said Maribeth. “Many 100 hour work weeks.”

To top it all off, Charlie also managed a farm after business hours with his father, where they raised tobacco and cows.

“Time management was important,” said Charlie. “Of course the business came first, but I always knew there was work still to be done when I got home from work.”

Nevertheless, the two stuck with it and grew the business into a local favorite.

The sloped floors and Pac Man arcade game became signature to the small-town, family-oriented business.

However, the future of Leono’s was put on the line when the two were faced with the decision in 2005 of whether to move the store or simply close it due to road construction plans.

“We had known for some time that a new bridge was going to be built and that we would have to move,” said Maribeth. “We were almost debt free and the farm was paid for but God showed us that our Leono’s journey was not yet over.”

In 2006 the two opened the new location located at the corner of Bridge and Church streets.

“Our first customer was Bob Ammerman,” said Maribeth. “We always thought that was kindda neat.”

The Thomases said customers have played a major role in the success and their continued passion for serving over the years.

“We wouldn’t be in business without our customers,” said Maribeth. “It is humbling to know that they continue to embrace us.”

Maribeth recalled some of her past employees including all of the high school and college students that have made running the business so fun.

“I used to teach math before this and I still say that I see more rewards in working with the young adults here than I did while teaching,” said Maribeth.

One particular employee, Albert Jibb, has continued to work at the store since it opened.

“It is safe to say that every box that leaves this place was folded by him,” laughed Maribeth. “He is our charter member and a joy to still have.”

The two explained that their personalities have also played a role in their great business relationship.

“I enjoy being out front and catering to the customers,” explained Maribeth. “Charlie is the behind-the-scene mastermind who fixes everything and knows how to keep the business running smoothly. We had very complimentary skills.”

Maribeth and Charlie said not much has changed menu wise since the restaurant first opened for one simple reason.

“If it is not broken then don’t try fixing it,” said Maribeth. “We don’t try to add anything that will take away from the service we try to provide.”

The Thomases agreed that the two will remain right where they are until their bodies don’t allow them to go any longer.

“We are happy doing what we do,” said Maribeth. “We enjoy working and we have great staff that allow us to slow down our pace when we need to.”

Jan. 6 through the 13, Leono’s will have daily specials to celebrate the 25 years of business. Gift cards and t-shirts will also be given away during the week-long celebration. 

 “It is a way of saying thank you to a community that has given us so much,” said the Thomas.”