GIFFORD — After the death of her husband, Lenny, following treatment for throat cancer in December, Mary Sutherlin was glad for something to keep her busy.
The Sutherlins had given up operation of their business, Lenny’s Ice Cream Gallery, after his diagnosis. But Mary decided she would like to resume running the popular Main Street business in part as a tribute to her late husband.
The name shortened to Lenny’s, the business has expanded "to a full-blown restaurant" as Mary Sutherlin puts it. "I shortened it to ‘Lenny’s’ because we offer more things than ice cream."
People can come in to dine — meat loaf is the most popular daily special; southern fried catfish is also popular — or have their fare from Lenny’s delivered. Even with a golf cart for deliveries, no address in the small Champaign County community is more than about two minutes away, Mary Sutherlin said with a laugh.
Their most faithful delivery customer is a resident of the independent living units at Country Health Care and Rehab, where she is delivered a lunch every day at 11:30 a.m.
"I see it growing every single day as we get our menu nailed down," Sutherlin said of the business. "We’ve changed things around a few times like different topping on our pork roast or a different rub, and we’re becoming more and more proficient at it."
And the business continues to sell plenty of ice cream. Lenny Sutherlin’s first job as a 16-year-old in Clarksville, Tenn., was dipping ice cream. The couple decided to take a nostalgic turn and open the ice cream shop about five years ago.
Lenny’s has also added beer, mostly to comply with a video poker license the business has received.
The eatery, which employs 13 people, including three full time, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It has meant that Mary Sutherlin has had to learn how to cook breakfast.
"Our whole married life, Len was the breakfast person, and he also barbecued," she said. "I watched him. I was a good watcher."
Having the restaurant has helped Sutherlin keep her mind busy — something for which she is grateful after going through a more-than-difficult 2016. In addition to losing her husband, she lost her son, Jameson, who died of a heart problem on Halloween. And her 14-year-old grandson who had lived with the Sutherlins, went back to Arizona to live with his mother.
"It does help to keep busy," Sutherlin said. "It is hard to go from a family of four to a family of one."
To help honor her son’s memory, Sutherlin will do something her parents always did on Halloween — hold an outdoor fire pit for children.
"They gave away hot dogs and chili and hot chocolate," she said, adding she will do the same thing and will call it "Sutty’s Halloween" in honor of her son’s nickname.
There will also be some rock painting for Lenny’s new rock garden.
In conjunction with that, a Hospice Hearts for children will also be held.
Reminders of Lenny and Jameson Sutherlin are scattered throughout the restaurant, including fishing gear (Lenny was an avid fisherman) and locksmith apparel (Jameson was a locksmith by trade), plus photos.
Another reminder of Lenny is the red, white and blue theme of the restaurant in honor of his military service.
"I spend so much time here, it’s like being in our house," she said.
Lenny’s is open from 7 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-9 p.m. Monday-Friday. Saturday hours are 7 a.m.-2 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.