Written by The Business Journal Staff
Downtown Hanford’s new Rock N Roll Deli serves up more then scrumptious sandwiches and salads named after famous oldies artists and DJs. The eatery, which just opened its doors March 1, also serves up tunes from classic rock radio station KFUN 92.5 FM.
The non-profit 501c3 radio station that supports Hanford-area high school sports and community events has been a fixture inside the space at 102 W. 7th Street for three years. KFUN owners Chris Edwards White and his wife, Denise White, are close friends with the proprietor of the former Smoke Joint BBQ and were inspired to open up a studio within the restaurant, reminiscent of an old rock station in Chicago that once aired live from a ‘50s-era diner.
“It’s very unique,” Chris said. “We’re the only radio station in the country inside a restaurant.”
When it was announced that Smoke Joint BBQ would be closing, the White’s took the plunge and purchased the space, wanting to keep KFUN on site.
“It costs a lot of money to move a radio station — there are antennas on the roof and the transmitter is in our kitchen,” Denise said, adding that the typical station can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to start because of the cost to get a license and the necessary equipment. By operating out of the restaurant, Denise said the investment in KFUN, mainly for equipment, was around $20,000.
The couple decided to transform the space into a delicatessen, as Denise’s family currently owns a successful 110-year-old deli in the San Jose area. And to fit in with the music streaming from the station, the White’s went with a ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s theme. Not only are the deli walls adorned with posters and cardboard cutouts of Elvis, The Grateful Dead, KISS, The Doors and more, but each entrée has a rock ‘n’ roll moniker or is named after a local landmark, DJ, or personality. The Reuben sandwich, for example, is named after Cocola Broadcasting Companies CEO Gary Cocola — also a close friend of the White’s.
More than just a gimmick to promote KFUN, the full-fledged deli is the only approved vendor of Boar’s Head meat in Kings County. The deli also carries local products — Fagundes Old World cheese, Rosa Brothers’ milk, Dairy Goddess cheese spreads and pastries from Sweet Palette Bakery. As an added bonus, the deli also serves as a vendor for Yeti mugs, which keep beverages hot or cold throughout the day.
“We wanted this place to have a local flare,” Denise said.
As if operating a radio station and a deli weren’t enough, the White’s also operate 10 other stations. Most, including the popular agriculture news station CaliforniaAgNews.com, operate solely online, but there are physical stations in Firebaugh, Dos Palos, San Francisco and Avenal. They also operate a second station, KOOL 104.5 FM, out of Hanford. KOOL is also a nonprofit, though not a 501c3, operated by the Unitarian Universal Life Church of Hanford.
Chris, who heads all the stations as CEO, said the industry isn’t dwindling as it seems. In fact, thanks to the internet, the stations are able to reach a vast audience worldwide. KFUN has 385,000 listeners a day, on average, White said, while CaliforniaAgNews.com reaches as many as 1.5 million a day.
Clearly, brick-and-mortar is not required, though KFUN and KOOL do need somewhere to stick a few antennas.
While KFUN mainly operates out of the deli, KOOL’s main studio is located in the historic Artesian building.
Additionally, both KOOL and KFUN now share a second studio space inside Hanford Mall’s USA Sport Apparel store. The store and secondary studio opened in November 2016.
“The mall is a big underwriter for KFUN and we do lots a events there — bridal shows, events with high school sports — and they approached us about having a studio in the mall,” Chris said. “Due to the city’s zoning codes, we couldn’t just put a station in there, it had to be part of a store so we worked around that and opened a store dedicated to school sports apparel, called USA Sports Apparel, and we donate a portion of the proceeds of the sales there to area high schools.”
Though each new station and business venture is an endeavor, it’s never too much for Chris, who has been in the industry for more than 50 years and retired from CBS radio in 2005.
“I just enjoy it,” he said.