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Everybody goes to Gino’s, Part II: Catching up on more from our recent trip

The Otto family, Gino’s crew leader Sue Jiron, and the Contres family at the King of Prussia Gino’s, seen in a photo by Keith Swango.

I mentioned in my post LAST Wednesday that I just had way too much to say about Gino’s to fit it all into one entry.

So here comes “food post day” again, and here I am late in the evening, still working on organizing my Gino’s thoughts.

On that previous post, commenter Mike says “Now I’m trying to remember if this Gino’s is the same as the one I remember in the South Jersey area.” (Mike, I’m sure it is!) He continues: “But here’s the more important follow up question … how do the Gino’s burgers compare to Five Guys and/or In-N-Out Burger? If it’s in the same ballpark, I’ll make the trek to the restaurant in King of Prussia, PA (a shade closer to my home than the York location). I looooooove good, fresh burgers.”

Well, since we’re not quite back in York just yet with Gino’s, I would definitely recommend a King of Prussia trip. The burgers are VERY fresh and tasty! (As far as how they compare to other chains? I received this response from a special commenter: “Clearly, you should employee my husband to taste-test all of the fresh-burger joints in York County for a comparison test.”)

But how are the Gino Giants of today different than what you might remember, though? Good question; keep reading to find out more!

At our meetup, my husband (aka YDR sports editor Chris Otto, whose own blog is pretty darn cool), had a chance to sit down with Richard Contres, 77, of York City and his wife, Audrey Contres. (If you recognize their names, it might be because Richard is also a former York City School Board member.)

Richard was able to detail for Chris 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. Gino Marchetti came to the openings of all three stores, and Richard met him at all three, so it was pretty cool that the two saw each other again at our meetup on March 6!

About the food

That day, Richard and Audrey 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. (Current Gino’s employees say we can probably blame our calorie-conscious culture for the missing third piece of bread!)

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 2011 Gino’s menu!
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.

The staff

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 for awhile, 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.

About the grill

Richard was willing to give Chris the inside scoop on that! 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 to the grill and it was ready to go for a day of service.

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, mustard, pickle, etc.

I think my thoughts are summed up best by Audrey, who said of her husband’s stories today: “I don’t know how he can remember all that stuff.”

“Those were the good old days,” Richard said.

One side note: As my husband was talking to the Contreses and I was mingling, I took a few minutes to chat with Tom Kelly, operator of the King of Prussia Gino’s. The cool thing? He had worked for Gino’s as a kid, and in fact, his dad was an executive in the former incarnation. Tom sold his hoagie shops and got into the Gino’s business, and loves it – except for the commute! He lives in the Blackwood, N.J., area – home of some of my relatives. It really is a small world!

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