… Franchise revives local store, and local memories …
By Jon Meoli, email@example.com
5:15 PM EDT, August 15, 2011
Despite an apologetic sign in the front window saying the restaurant is not open yet, Scott Autry, co-owner of the Towson Gino’s Burgers and Chicken location, estimates that 50 people a day bang on the locked doors in hopes of getting their first taste of the reincarnated Gino’s Giant.
On Wednesday, Autry will finally be able to let them in.
The first Maryland location of the beloved restaurant’s second incarnation will formally open to the public on Wednesday, Aug. 17 — an event that Autry and his staff are more than ready for.
Customers who have driven into the parking lot over the past several days could be forgiven for thinking the restaurant is already open. Autry’s staff has been inside running cash registers and grills every day.
Autry said that employees all have 30 to 60 hours of training, and that he plans to be “over-prepared” for Wednesday’s official opening.
The staff has had its opportunities to work out the kinks before the general public takes its first bite. Gino’s hosted a lunch for local business owners and politicians on Aug. 9, a friends-and-family lunch Aug. 14 and a fundraiser for Calvert Hall College High School on Monday afternoon, Aug. 15.
Autry’s father, Harold, arrived at Sunday’s event in his old Gino’s uniform. Harold Autry met Scott’s mother, Julie, when both worked at Gino’s as 16-year-olds in the 1970’s, and was an area manager for the original Gino’s franchise.
It’s memories like that that makes Autry expect a big turnout Wednesday.
“Everyone has a story,” Autry said, “and it’s a fond memory for everyone.”
By now, Autry has heard plenty of tales of Gino’s past glory. Some are like his parents’ story, but others are as simple as young children, now grown, for whom a trip to Gino’s would be the reward for good behavior or high marks in school.
“To re-eat a Gino’s Giant after 30 years is a big deal for a lot of people,” Autry said.
For that reason, employees are just as versed in Gino’s history as they are menu items.
Patty Rhine, 20, of Towson, is an assistant to Autry and co-owner Jared Miller, and said all of the cashiers and employees have been taught the restaurant’s history, from founder Gino Marchetti’s uniform number and position for the Baltimore Colts (No. 89, defensive end) to the company’s demise 20 years ago.
“It’s crazy,” Rhine said. “All these people, like my grandmother, have these memories from 40 years ago when they were here with their families.
“They remember the food, and the music,” she said. “That’s why people want to come here. It reminds them of their childhood.”
For all the similarities, there will be a few differences between the Gino’s of old and the new restaurant, which Autry described as “fast-casual.” The company eschews frozen foods in favor of fresh ingredients that are delivered daily and prepared each morning for that day’s business, he said, and boasts an indoor and outdoor dining area that can seat up to 100 people.
County Councilman David Marks was too young to remember the original Gino’s franchise when it closed, but believes it’s “wonderful to have a locally oriented franchise like this back in the area.”
“It means a lot to people who grew up in the area in the 1960s and ’70s, and I think they’re going to be very successful,” Marks said. “There’s a lot of energy there. People are excited about them being back.”
Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, had her first Gino’s experience last Tuesday at the preview event. She said that by the time she moved north from Florida, Gino’s had closed, but she heard enough about the Gino’s Giant that she knew exactly what she had to order.
She called the burger “excellent,” and said the servers did a great job, but enjoyed the atmosphere created by the one-time Gino’s regulars with whom she dined.
“The thing that I like the most is how many people that were there were reliving so many fond memories of the place,” Hafford said.
Despite the positive feedback, Rhine said Autry is leaving nothing to chance.
“He wants everything to be ‘the top,’ ” Rhine said. “He strives for perfection, if it’s possible.”
… A Gino Giant, anyone? …