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Gino's Burgers and Chicken Returns with Franchise Opportunities in Philadelphia

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On December 30th 2009, a single line from The Philadelphia Inquirer started a frenzy around the area that has only gotten bigger since the announcement. So what exactly WAS this eye grabbing headliner? Gino's Hamburgers to make a comeback

Yes, Gino's Burgers & Chicken, the fast-food chain which was well known throughout South-Eastern Pennsylvania and extending all the way down to Maryland (where the first franchise was originated) throughout the sixties, seventies, and early eighties, is making its return to the Delaware The Gino Giant in all its glory!Valley.

Most of you reading this who are younger than 30 years of age probably don't remember Gino's, which at one time was actually the Mid-Atlantic outlet for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Everyone who can remember Gino's has their own special memories of the restaurant. In fact, I remember my mother taking me there on the last day of kindergarten along with my sister and her friend. Ah the memories, but back to business! Since that December day, there really hasn't been much out there as far as information of when the first franchise will open its doors. So when I heard that Gino's President and CEO Tom Romano was having a franchise showcase this week, I just HAD to get to the bottom of this. Moreover, if I played my cards right, maybe I could even get a sample of the 2010 version of the Gino Giant- Gino's signature hamburger that I hadn't tasted in almost 30 years! So I brought my dad, who used to take me to Gino's as a kid and he snapped some pics as well (which you can see in the photo gallery to the right!).

When I arrived at the location, I was warmly greeted by Mr. Romano himself. A self-made man, Romano went from manager-trainee at Gino's in the early sixties to Chief Operating Officer of over 300 Gino's locations, which consisted of over 20,000 employees who served over 10,000,000 guests at the time Gino's was sold to the Marriott Corporation in 1982. Romano has a reputation for saving franchises that have been virtually left for dead. He recently served as the CEO of Saladworks, and is now at the helm of Gino's' revival. Judging by his extremely humble demeanor, you would have no idea whatsoever of Romano's pedigree just by talking to him. With his track record, there is very little doubt he can make Gino's succeed again. However, I had to ask him why he was interested in resurrecting a franchise which last closed its doors almost three decades ago.

Gino's CEO Tom RomanoThere's a combination of reasons for why we're bringing Gino's back," explains Romano. "I'm very much inspired by the interest that remains  from Gino's former customers  and employees. There are Gino's Facebook links  of people still communicating with one another in regards to their memories of Gino's and their fondness of the Gino's brand. Related to that is the apparent interest in what I call a "mature" or "high quality burger," which is a fresh, hot-off-the-grill burger as opposed to one that's prepared or cooked in advance and then held. It's really about a higher quality burger and it's about satisfying the residual recollection of the Gino's brand."

Helping Romano in his quest is Shawn Caric, a Gino's franchise consultant. Although Caric grew up in Pittsburgh, he understands the Gino's phenomenon, and is in awe at the demand people still have for the franchise.

"The response has just been overwhelming," says Caric. "The following Monday morning after that headline in December, Tom called me almost in a panic. He couldn't believe that the headline made such a buzz. The Baltimore Sun  picked up the headline and grabbed it as well. Everyone was calling him and emailing him about it. The response was overwhelming. Some were vendors wanting to sell meat and cheese, there were paper cup vendors, many were wishing us luck, and some wanted jobs. Some were interested in franchise opportunities. And between emails and voicemail messages, there were nearly one hundred people who reached out to Tom, just because of that headliner. So I organized the vendors, fans, employees, franchisees, and we started getting back to them because Tom is a man of integrity. He always cares about the customers. And this dates back to his roots at Gino's. The customers and the employees meant so much to him. He thought it was only right that he gets back to all of those people who were nice enough to contact him over that busy holiday weekend."

Gino's was known for its philanthropic efforts and their work in the community, and much of that is attributed to Romano. In fact, one of the recipients of the Gino's scholarship award was none other than Philadelphia's own: Mayor Michael Nutter!

Also on hand for the evening's festivities was Gino Marchetti, a Pro Football Hall of Famer with the Baltimore Colts  who founded Gino's in 1957 Gino's founder Gino Marchettialong with Lou Fischer and former teammate Alan Ameche. On this night, Marchetti cooked the burgers for the franchise hopefuls himself. He now makes his home in West Chester, and will be a consultant for Gino's version 2.0. "I'm very excited for the return of Gino's," says Marchetti, who still stands at an imposing six feet five inches. "Gino's was my vehicle out of professional football. We ran it pretty successfully and then sold it to Marriott. We have Tom (Romano) running things, just like he did when we were operating previously. He called me, told me what he wanted to do in regards to bringing Gino's back, and I'm excited. Particularly now when you see the hats and logos everywhere."

As Caric reviewed a power point presentation to the guests, they were treated to the newest version of the Gino Giant along with their signature fries and a drink of their choice. And when Caric asked my dad and I what we wanted on OUR Gino Giant, I could barely hold my excitement. I know, I know, it's only food Joe, relax. Well, just wait until YOU can taste a Gino Giant! It was actually better than I can remember. Not only that, it was cooked by Gino Marchetti himself!

Romano took over for Caric and offered much encouragement to the guests in attendance who are contemplating joining the Gino's family. Anthony Nicosia, who owns A&M Auto Body with his son in South Philadelphia, is one of those prospective franchisees. This father and son duo sure know their burgers. Nicosia's son once drove all the way to South Carolina just to eat a particular burger that is only available in that area. Not only was Nicosia a long-time customer of Gino's as a teenager, but his brother actually worked there. He joked about the days when he used to pick him up from work in hopes that there would be a leftover Gino Giant burger waiting for him. Nicosia not only loved the Gino Giant that he sampled, but he too thinks the burger actually tasted better now than it did almost thirty years ago.

"The burger I just had was better than the ones I had as a child," he says. "I thought it may be a frozen burger I was going to get. Absolutely not. The meat was so fresh and tender. Very good. Since I've seen and tasted the product, the possibility of owning a Gino's franchise is very exciting."

So far, there have been three official hopefuls who are currently looking for locations in the Philadelphia area: Bill Miles- A Certified Public Accountant, John Manfredi- a developer, and Tom Forkin- a corporate attorney.

One thing is for sure: despite Gino's long absence from the public, it has never strayed from the hearts of many in the Delaware Valley. And with Romano in charge of bringing Gino's back, and people like Caric at his side, the mission is already half accomplished. It will come full circle when the first franchise opens its doors at the end of this summer. There is a very good chance it will surface in the Northeast, where "there has been a very high level of interest for the return of Gino's," according to Romano.

Stay tuned, and get your appetite ready.

Gino's is actively looking for the right franchisor and location. For more information about Gino's, go to www.GinosGiant.com

Also, check out Gino's Blog

You can contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

Photos by Joe Vallee Sr: josephv985@aol.com