After a period of dormancy, Gino's Burgers & Chicken is laying out plans to open two new restaurants within the next year.
The new eateries would double the restaurant chain's store count and set the stage for a second revival of the brand, which is rooted in Baltimore and headquartered in Pennsylvania.
The beloved burger chain has laid low during the past several years. Founded as Gino's Inc. by former Baltimore Colts star Gino Marchetti in 1957, the last of the original restaurants closed in 1991. It reemerged as Gino's Burgers & Chicken in 2010, opening a handful of restaurants in Pennsylvania and the Baltimore area.
Since then, all but two locations — in Towson and Glen Burnie — have closed.
Tom Romano, the company's owner and CEO, said the business was hurt by the lasting effects of the recession, and he chose to wait that out before opening additional locations.
"I purposefully pulled off to the side of the road," Romano said.
Now, Gino's is ready to grow again. An existing franchisee is looking for an additional location in the Baltimore area, and the fast-casual restaurant aims to open a corporate store in Pennsylvania.
Romano said the company is still hunting for specific sites.
"For good reason, we’ve been stagnant or static in our growth," Romano said.
He said his company looks to Panera Bread as a bellwether to determine if an area would be a good fit for Gino's.
"It’s good to have a role model in the business," Romano said. "We’re looking for a degree of affluence as compared to a low-income area. Certainly being by a university is helpful."
Of the existing Gino's locations, he said Towson sees a higher volume of customers than the Glen Burnie restaurant.
Both those restaurants are franchise locations. After letting its franchise registration lag during the last few years, Romano said Gino's is in the process of bringing it up to date — allowing more franchisees to come aboard.
The new corporate store would also support its franchise expansion.
"It enables us to have a live test kitchen," Romano said. "Instead of training new franchisees in a franchise unit ... you’re better served training a franchisee in the corporate store."
As Romano prepares to expand his business, he said he recognizes there is competition from a growing number of burger chains.
"What it says is it’s a segment that’s worth looking at," Romano said. "You can’t keep a good thing a secret very long."
But unlike some national chains, Gino's retains a level of local nostalgia among customers who have been coming for generations.
"The iconic residual value of the Gino's brand, particularly in Baltimore, is huge," Romano said.