Read more: Read about Gino's and other old York County favorites at the Only in York County blog.
It's been decades since you could get a Gino Giant in York County.
The Giant was one of the signature sandwiches of the Gino's restaurant chain, started in 1957 by former Baltimore Colts football players Gino Marchetti and Alan Ameche. At its heyday, there were three Gino's locations in York County and more than 350 in the region.
The chain was sold in 1982 to Marriott Corp., which converted some locations to Roy Rogers and closed others. By the mid-1980s, the Gino's name was gone.
But in late 2010, it reappeared. The first "new" Gino's, with Gino Marchetti still on the steering committee, reopened in King of Prussia.
Could Gino's return to York County? It seems at least possible.
In the meantime, though, a group of Yorkers who couldn't wait to taste the Gino Giant again headed to the King of Prussia location on March 6 for a meetup and "eat-up" organized through my Only in York County blog at www.yorkblog.com/onlyyork.
Though I was too young to enjoy Gino's on its first go, I was definitely in a good position to do so on this trip!
Admittedly, the weather (and rising gas prices) put a damper on attendance. But we did have some folks come out, and we had a TON of fun. And good food -- I can't forget that! The staff members were very welcoming; they even had signs on the door that said "Gino's welcomes York, PA." I can't tell you how I excited I got when I saw that; I made my husband, Chris, take a photo, along with the sign I'd made to bring along.
In addition to the friendly staff members, we were also greeted by Keith Swango of Ewing, N.J., a Gino's employee from "the old days." Keith is the "unofficial Gino's photographer," and was gracious enough to share his photos with me.
Also at our meetup, my husband and I had a chance to sit down with Richard Contres, 77, of York and his wife, Audrey Contres.
Where was Gino's?
Richard Contres was able to detail where the former Gino's locations were in York County.
· East Market Street in Springettsbury Township, which Perkins is now
· At Route 30 and the Susquehanna Trail in Manchester Township, where Taco Bell is now
· Near the former Mailman's Shopping Center (now Queensgate) off South Queen Street in York Township, where Wonderful Garden is now
Richard said he worked at all three Gino's in York.
About the food
That day, Richard and Audrey Contres both ordered and ate the Gino Giant burger. They also shared an order of the three-piece chicken dinner (hand-breaded tenders) with fries and slaw.
They "complained" that the new version of the Gino Giant is missing the third bun piece, which formerly went in the middle, between the two beef patties.
As far as other menu differences, there used to be something called the Sirloiner that is not on the current menu, though I hear that people have been requesting it make a comeback!
The fry stuff
Richard Contres worked for Gino's for 15 years, starting soon after the first one opened in York County. "I was the fry man," Richard said. "Fries were my specialty."
Richard would start his Gino's days at 9 a.m. By 11 a.m., he had 300 pounds of potatoes peeled, cut, washed and blanched. "Everything was fresh. We never had anything frozen," including the fries, he said.
When Gino's first opened on East Market Street, it only had a walk-up window. There was no seating area. That made it COLD in the winter, but people still came. Eventually, they built a vestibule so that people could get out of the weather while ordering and waiting.
The busiest days
"Mother's Day was the busiest day of the year. We couldn't keep the chicken made," Richard said. At other times, busloads of folks would come to Gino's. Sometimes, without warning, a district manager would sit across the street from Gino's and time the restaurant on how long it would take to serve a full busload of customers, Richard added.
Richard said that, on average, about eight employees plus one or two managers worked per day at a Gino's. There were three or four people for the counter, a grill person, a fries person and one or two chicken people. Richard was usually the oldest employee, working alongside a lot of high-school-aged co-workers. "Some guys, all they did was the chicken. I tell you what -- they worked," he said.
His wife, Audrey Contres, worked part-time hours at Gino's, helping during the busy lunch period from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. some days. Richard and Audrey raised five daughters, three of whom worked part-time at Gino's while going to school.
Richard's "uniform" at Gino's was dark pants and a plain-white short-sleeved shirt -- super-starched every day by Audrey.
Richard was willing to give the inside scoop on the Gino's grill. He said every night after closing, the Gino's kitchen would be cleaned and sterilized from top to bottom. The grill would be cleaned well, but it would probably have a little beef residue left on it.
So, here's the trick they used before getting started the next morning: They would turn the grill on and get it up to low heat. Then they'd pour some orange drink on the warm grill, wait a minute and then it would easily scrape clean. Finally, a little bit of french-fry oil was applied.
They would cook 48 hamburgers at a time on the grill and had a whole assembly-line process in place for handling the toasted buns, onions, ketchup, etc.
"Mr. Marchetti" -- the Gino of Gino's fame -- was at the King of Prussia Gino's on the day of our meetup, but he was leaving, apparently, just as I walked in! I missed him by moments. He is 84 years old and still comes to the restaurant most days.
Sue Jiron, who works at the King of Prussia Gino's as the crew leader, and who was amazingly kind and friendly while we visited, said of Gino, "The man is unbelievable. He works every day. He comes back and does the fries." Gino commutes from West Chester, where he lives.
On March 6, he was signing autographs, including one for my new friends the Contreses.
Icouldn't believe the treasure trove of memories my blog posts about Gino's launched, and the things the Contreses and others were able to share.
My thoughts might best be summed up by Audrey Contres, who said of her husband: "I don't know how he can remember all that stuff."
"Those were the good old days," Richard said.
Weekly Record and online editor Joan Concilio is the author of the Only in York County blog at www.yorkblog.com/onlyyork and the "Do you remember?" column in each week's Sunday Your News section. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the blog.
Jim Staub is trying to organize a reunion of employees from the three former Gino's loccations in York. He writes: "I remember getting chicken as a kid, say late 60s, from the Gino's on East Market St. for picnics at the Meadowbrook Swim Club (in Saginaw?). Gino's had the KFC franchise for . . . PA and MD."
Jim, by the way, mentioned that based on previous posts on the Only in York County blog and the "Do you remember?" column in the Your Sunday News, he's received 20 to 25 responses to a possible reunion.
"Most were people who worked at one of the three York Gino's in the 60s and very early 70s. . . . I worked at the East Market St and Springwood Rd stores from sometime in 1973 to sometime in 1983."
Jim has been trying to get a larger group together; if you're interested, e-mail him at
Memories of Gino's
· Mark Heinrich writes, "'Feelin' Good at Gino's,' that was their advertising slogan. You could visit one of three of the restaurants in York. Charter buses were also welcomed from the highway. I remember working there when they put in the drive-thru window. That 1st winter, all that cold air made the girls who worked the counter hate opening that new window. The freezers where the food was kept also made you 'blow smoke' from the chill of the air. I worked there for just over a year and was glad to finally take that apron off."
· Tess says, "I used to work at a Gino's in B'more when I was in high school. Hamburgers were 22 cents and a cheeseburger was 27 cents -- odd, I know. Gino's did sell Kentucky Fried Chicken. While you were at work, you could eat whatever you wanted, so the grill guys (girls did not work the grill back then) had a contest to see who could eat the most chicken -- both guys ate an entire barrel of chicken!"
· Jim Vasold writes, "In my early years I frequented all the Baltimore Gino establishments! Thanks & what a joy it was to meet Mr Marchetti at the York Sports night the other year!"
· Pam Lee writes, "My husband Rick Lee (a YDR writer) and I met at Gino's in 1972. He cooked the Kentucky Fried Chicken and I worked the counter in my red and white striped dress. . . .. Rick actually started in the original building next to Hills. At that time there was no seating in the place and the fries were fresh cut. They then built the new place behind the old one . . . probably around 1970. I started in the new building along with several friends from high school. My pay was $1.50/hr. I wonder if they will have any of the original items like the Gino Giant or strawberry milkshakes."
Pam (and Rick!) will be happy to hear that the current menu does feature the Gino Giant and chocolate, vanilla or strawberry milkshakes.
· Patricia Riccio wrote, "I've been following the articles in the paper concerning the Gino's that used to sit where Perkins is now. . . . Gino's and Huntley's (across from Eastern Market) were the only two fast-food restaurants in the early days that I recall. When teenagers, my friend and I wanted to work at Gino's. We were only 14 and begged Floyd Wise, the manager at that time, for a job. He told us when we turned 15 he would hire us, and he did. I believe the name of the district manager at that time was Bob Custer. I have to say I loved that job. Being a people person, I got to meet many, many people. Hills Department Store was beside Gino's at the time and many employees would stop in for lunch. . . ."
Do you remember?
The memories above are excerpts from community editor Joan Concilio's Only in York County blog.
To add your memories about Gino's, visit Only in York County at www.yorkblog.com/onlyyork, e-mail email@example.com or mail to Joan Concilio, 1891 Loucks Road, York 17408. Photos are always welcomed; please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope to have mailed photos returned.
More about Gino's
· Official company website: www.ginosgiant.com
· Photos from various Gino's events: www.keithswangophotography.com
· On Facebook: Search for "Everybody Goes to Gino's," "Gino's Burgers and Chicken" and "Gino's Burgers and Chicken Baltimore Group"