By Danielle Chazen
A fresh bun, juicy hamburger meat, cheese, lettuce, pickles and secret sauce. After almost three decades, the nostalgic Gino's Giant is back in Baltimore.
Since its grand opening in 1957, Gino's Burgers and Chicken has always been a restaurant joined at the hip with Baltimore tradition. The original chain of restaurants was founded by former Baltimore Colts Hall of Fame defensive end Gino Marchetti and his former teammate Alan Ameche, who scored the winning touchdown for the Colts in the 1958 NFL championship game.
And with a revived Gino's opening Aug. 17 at 8600 LaSalle Road in Towson, Marchetti is again responsible for offering what many Baltimore residents consider the greatest burger ever created.
"It's a mixture of the old and the new," vice president of operations Tom Clatterbuck said of the new Gino's. "The brand is golden. Everyone remembers it. There is such nostalgia, but we're also not the same Gino's."
Gino's has switched from fast food to freshly cooked and fast casual. Gino's hamburgers are hand-patted, its French fries are hand-cut and its milkshakes are hand-spun.
"We have fresh burger meat and chicken delivered daily," Clatterbuck said. "We have an open-kitchen format where everything is fresh, real and made in front of the guests when they order. Nothing is reserved for later."
But during its initial weeks, the perks of serving the freshest possible food are being overshadowed by the long lines customers are forced to stand in while waiting for their food. Scott Autry said he and Jared Miller, who co-own the Towson branch of Gino's, were working tirelessly to fix the kinks of their new restaurant.
Autry said in addition to continually training his staff to work more efficiently, he was upgrading the restaurant's register systems by adding faster technology to speed up service and simplify ticket orders.
"From all the stories I've heard, and I've heard hundreds of thousands, it's more about the memories associated with Gino's than the Giant itself," Autry said. "It's who they went with, when they went there and why they got to go there. It's where people went when they did something good, as a reward for good grades on a report card or after church on Sunday."
Stephen Oliner of Pikesville said the new Gino's reminded him of the one he went to growing up as a teenager.
"They seem to be doing very well in Towson," he said. "You have to wait to get in, and there are always lines. Everybody has been saying the food is really good. It's the people from my generation who are going back and bringing their children, creating a whole new generation of Gino's eaters."
Joni Palmer of Baltimore said that while the fried onion rings were delicious and she enjoyed her burger, Gino's seemed noticeably disorganized.
"It's crowded," Palmer said. "Logistically, it could be improved and their help staff wasn't familiar with their products and seemed overwhelmed. It's still well worth going back though."
Autry said he hoped customers could remain patient, because the restaurant only allows eight people to fit in the kitchen at one time.
"Patience seems like a rude word," he said. "You shouldn't have to be patient if you're paying for something. We didn't build the store to do this much business. We built the Towson store to do $1.5 to 2 million and we're on track to do $5 million in sales."
Autry said he didn't think business would stay as busy all year long and the novelty of its reopening would wear off a bit.
Another Gino's is set to open in Perry Hall in 2012, and on Sept. 6, plans were finalized to build another location in Harford County.
"We expect most of Maryland to be spoken for in regards to Gino's locations," Clatterbuck said. "We are growing in the mid-Atlantic region and hoping to open between 12 to 15 new locations next year in Maryland, South Jersey and Delaware."
More Front Row:
Henderson Guys: Backing The Line -- And Each Other
Long Bike Ride Unveils Unexpected Generosity
Burger Fans Rejoice: Gino's Giant Is Back
Some Old Faithfuls Depart Blast Roster
From The Cheap Seats
Issue 165: September 2011