Gino Marchetti, the Hall of Fame defensive end for the Baltimore Colts, is bringing his beloved burgers back to Baltimore after a 20-year hiatus. Marchetti, 84, opened his first fast-food joint on North Point Road in 1959, at the height of his football career.
By 1982, when he sold the chain to Marriott International for $48 million, there were 469 Gino's franchises nationwide dishing up the popular Gino Giant, a two-fisted meal with a special pink sauce that gourmands still rave about today.
The first new Gino's opened last October, in King Of Prussia, Pa., near Marchetti's home. Next up: a Baltimore-area franchise. Marchetti spoke recently about expansion plans with The Sun's Mike Klingaman.
Question: How many Gino's restaurants are planned for the Baltimore area, and when will the first one open?
Answer: We hope to build 10 by the end of the year. There's a good possibility the first one will be in Towson, on the same site as one of the original Gino's, on York Road. If the paperwork were to be signed next week, we'd be ready to open in four months.
Q: What is your role in this venture?
A: I'm a consultant. I fool around in the kitchen, fiddling with the onion rings recipe and lining up the equipment so the flow is good. It's like being the coach of an offensive unit in football. The workers call me "Papa Gino."
Q: Have you changed any recipes from 50 years ago?
A: The recipes are basically the same. The only difference is that we're using a lot more meat on the sandwich.
Q: Is there any chance of the burgers selling for the 1959 price of 15 cents?
A: Absolutely not. Operating costs have really gone up. When we first opened Gino's, we paid workers 85 cents an hour. Now, they're making $8.
Q: Will the restaurants have a Baltimore Colts' motif?
A: We'll play that up a little, but we've never relied on that too much. If your product and the service is not good, you could have John Unitas working at the counter and there would be very few customers.
Q: I understand that you've revived the old Gino's jingle, "Everybody goes to Gino's, 'cause Gino's is the place to go …"
A: Yes, we play that in the restaurant. We'll also have pictures of old Gino's buildings, and the customers who went there.
Q: The last Gino's, in Pasadena, closed in 1991. Will Marylanders remember you after all these years?
A: For our grand opening in King Of Prussia, last October, more than 150 old customers from Baltimore showed up. They're driving 120 miles for a burger. That makes me feel good. I imagine the first Gino's that opens in Baltimore will be a madhouse.
Q: Are there any new twists planned?
A: In the old days, we didn't have chicken sandwiches or onion rings. And we've got three types of salads now. People would have laughed at that in the 1950s. As we go along, we'll add different types of sandwiches. No pizzas, though. Too much prep work.
Q: Would you recommend that the Ravens players eat at Gino's ?
A: Hell, they could buy the whole restaurant.