My second job, if you don’t count babysitting, was as a cashier for the original Gino’s on North Point Boulevard when I was 17 and 18 years old, during my junior and senior years of high school at Sparrows Point.
If you wanted to buy 45s, jeans or a certain fringe jacket, you had to get yourself a job, buddy, because back in the '70s, Mom and Dad didn’t dish out the dough for anything but necessities.
Does anyone remember Gino’s collectible plastic football helmets?
Back in the mid-'70s, Gino’s served soft serve ice cream for a while in mini NFL helmets. I believe it was some sort of ice cream promotion at the time, and each week or so they would offer a new helmet. You were also given a cardboard display and a decal to apply to your newly obtained plastic replica of an NFC or AFC team helmet.
Because I worked there, the manager allowed me to purchase all the helmets. Of course, it took me a few paychecks to buy them all and still have money for myself, but I was determined to buy them for my 10-year-old brother—and I did. I bought every single helmet for him. He still has those helmets and proudly displays them on the ledge of the loft in his house.
Like most girls, I worked the counter waiting on customers. Only on occasions were the counter girls allowed to work the grill. And yes, it’s true, we applied that special Gino Giant sauce with a gadget that resembled a caulk gun.
Each night, we’d get a break and I’d make my own meal. Double cheeseburgers were not on the menu, let alone double cheeseburgers with Giant sauce, but that was my standard dinner each shift I worked. Once in a while, I’d have a keel with fries instead of the cheeseburger.
Anyone remember keels? Oh man, that was the best piece of chicken. It was all white meat with this little flexible bone-like thing down the back. Some referred to the keel as “the last part over the fence.” Heck, I didn’t care what they called it. I called it a GREAT dinner! Back then the chicken was fried in a big pressure cooker, timed to be sure it was prepared perfectly.
That was definitely a job for the boys. I never saw a girl working that thing.
In those days, the girls wore these red cotton minidresses. I, for one, spent a little more time than I cared for fending off unwanted advances from a middle-aged manager who will remain nameless—basically because I forgot his name. Ha!
One night, I was closing the store and my job was to mop the floor. My new boyfriend was sitting outside in his 1962 Nova waiting for me to get off work to take me home. I was very conscious of the fact that he was watching me through the window, and I tried to be as poised and elegant as I could for someone who was mopping a floor. But I made one fatal error, stepping onto the wet floor I was mopping.
Oh yeah, you got it; down I went right on my keister.
I guarantee you, my face turned as red as that form-fitting dress. When we all finished our closing duties, we locked the building and left. My boyfriend was still laughing so hard I thought he was going to fall over. Decades later, that guy remains my husband.
The famous theme song “Everybody goes to Gino’s, 'cuz Gino’s is the place to go” was perfectly suited for our Dundalk restaurant, because back then Gino’s really was the place to go.
You’d have thought it was a drive-in like The Circle on Dundalk Avenue or T-bird in Essex, where food was brought to your car, because we spent so many hours just driving through Gino’s to see if anyone was there.
Often, a few of us girls would put our change together and just sit inside Gino’s and share an order of fries and a Coke. If we were lucky, some of the local boys might drive through or stop in. It was definitely the local hangout for our generation.
I introduced one of my best friends to a guy who worked there and they’ve been together ever since, too. They were married a few years later and raised two lovely daughters. Ask anyone who grew up in that era about Gino’s and I have a feeling they'll have a story to tell.
I drove to King of Prussia outside Philadelphia last fall, the weekend the first new Gino’s opened there, and I plan on being at the opening at the first new Gino’s in Maryland when they open one in Towson this summer.
My big hope is that Mr. Gino Marchetti remembers where it all began, because the spot where the original Gino’s was built in Dundalk, in 1957, currently sits empty. I think it’d be a perfect location for a brand-new retro-style fast food joint, honoring what once was and what could be again—a great local restaurant.