Meltons have run deli in downtown Danville for almost two decades

Published 7:08 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A “little bit of courage” and an old gas station is all it took for Gina and Ronnie Melton to open their “Great American Deli” on East Main Street nearly 20 years ago.

Gina Melton had worked at Whirlpool for a while before opening Melton’s Florist on North Fourth Street. Her husband Ronnie was working at South Central Bell.

When they sold the shop in 1998, the Melton’s “took a step back” and began thinking about what other type of business they could start, Gina says.

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They saw how much a friend enjoyed running his sandwich shop in Versailles so they watched him for a while before deciding that’s what they wanted to do too.

“We didn’t really have much of a plan,” Gina recalls.

Gina and Ronnie Melton work together everyday at Melton’s Deli, a shop they’ve owned for nearly 20 years. Photo by Robin Hart.

They began looking around for a location and discovered Dan Montgomery’s gas station on the corner of East Main and Wilderness Road was on the market. Gina says she was a bit skeptical about the possibility of turning a gas station into a place where they could serve food. But as soon as she walked into the building, she knew it would be easy to accomplish.

“It was so clean and well maintained,” Gina says. The men even polished their tools before hanging them back on the walls, she recalls.

At first they were going to be a small convenience type of store selling gas and making sandwiches. “But it didn’t take us long to figure out people wanted sandwiches the most,” Gina says. So they had the gas tanks removed and the land remediated and in September, 1999, Melton’s Great American Deli opened.

Every morning Ronnie slices, weighs and fills containers with sandwich meats. Cookies are baked while Gina peels and chops fresh fruit for containers that are stacked in the deli case; the double sandwich station is stocked with all sandwich fixings and condiments; and pots of soup are simmered on the stove.

Ronnie says on average, they probably serve about 150 sandwiches a day. Gina says they tried once to figure out how many pickles are served, but they gave up. “The pickles are quite popular,” Gina says.

The deli opens at 9:30 a.m. on weekdays, but is closed on the weekends. “That way we can have some sort of life,” Gina says. It also allows them time to cater a few events.

Some of their customers don’t have typical working hours, Gina says. When people go into work at 3 a.m. or work all night, by 9:30 a.m., they’re ready for lunch or supper.

The Meltons also stay busy making box lunches, sandwich trays, bowls of fruit and salads when catering to surrounding businesses and offices.

Gina says they love being so close to downtown and have many regular customers. “We love our regulars.” She says she and Ronnie are also thankful for the community’s support over the years.

Ronnie Melton, his mother-in-law “Mammy” Nash and Gina Melton are familiar faces at Melton’s Great American Deli.Photo by Robin Hart.

A familiar face who normally is running the cash register is Gina’s mom, Idella “Mammy” Nash. The Hot Mammy sandwich is named after her.

“She’s pretty hot and sassy for her age,” Gina says, adding that her mother is 88 years old. “She’s just so full of life.”

She had the H&R Block business in Lancaster years ago, and she still does the Melton’s taxes, Gina says.

The deli is very much a family business. Not only does her mom work there, but her brother and two sisters occasionally help out too. Also, their son-in-law Nathan Schepman worked there for about three years before opening his own Melton’s Great American Deli next to the Danville cinemas.

Gina says Ronnie is 63 and she’ll be the same age next week. “We know we have to stay active. And we do like this,” Gina says.

One way they keep active is by dancing — in the deli — while getting ready for the day. She says they turn up the music and Ronnie turns dancing into a kind of workout. They dance behind the counter while chopping and slicing. They’ve even been known to go out on the floor and move tables to have more room, Gina says laughing. Ronnie also does a cardio workout by lifting the ice buckets for the drink machine.

“This just gets our blood going in the mornings,” Gina says.