Colts great Marchetti welcomes diners to new Gino's

Bobbi Ackers set foot inside Gino's restaurant Sunday morning, saw Gino Marchetti and a bunch of former Colts seated at a table outside and immediately dropped 30 years.

"At least," a beaming Ackers, 65, said after getting an autograph from Marchetti, who not only spent 13 seasons in a Colts uniform but also lived in the Towson suburb of Campus Hills, not far from the restaurant — the first Baltimore franchise in the revived Gino's Burgers & Chicken chain.

"I'm so glad that he's back in this neighborhood," said Ackers, who lives in nearby Loch Raven Village.

"And you know," she added, "the food is wonderful."

To paraphrase what used to be one of Baltimore's most ubiquitous advertising slogans, everybody can go to Gino's — again. And Sunday, for the first time in decades, the man who helped found and still lends his name to the franchise was back in his old stomping grounds.

"It's always good to come to Baltimore," said Marchetti, 85, who now lives in suburban Philadelphia, not far from where the first of the revived Gino's opened in 2010. "It brings back a lot of good memories."

Sunday saw a lot of those, and not just for Marchetti. Gino's, which got its start in 1957, for years was the fast-food restaurant of choice among Baltimoreans. At its height, more than 300 Gino's restaurants were operating, mostly on the East Coast.

In 1982, the chain was acquired by the Marriott Corp., which eventually abandoned it in favor of the Roy Rogers restaurants the company also owned. The last of the first generation of Gino's, on Mountain Road in Pasadena, closed in 1991.

Two years ago, a group of Philadelphia businessmen decided to revive the franchise and brought Marchetti on board. He was supposed to have been on hand when the Towson location opened in August, but canceled because of illness.

Sunday's appearance was Marchetti's make-good. To make the day even more memorable, former Colts Art Donovan, Jim Mutscheller, Stan White and Toni Linhart joined him. Also on hand were Chad Unitas, son of revered Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas, and Mike Campanella, son of former Colts linebacker and general manager Joe Campanella.

Scores of supporters showed up to welcome Marchetti. Some were die-hard fans, like Raymond and Yvonne Sweitzer of Glen Burnie, who got to the restaurant three hours early just to make sure they were first in line.

Many fans, in addition to shaking hands with Marchetti and his fellow Colts alums, also took the opportunity to sample a Gino's Giant double-decker hamburger for the first time in decades. For some, it was hard to decide which was the bigger thrill.

"It was just like I remembered it," Janice Weinstein of Pikesville said of the burger. "Except, of course, for the price."

Mark Kozak, 51, grew up in Baltimore a Colts fan and drove down from his home in Havre de Grace to relive the glories of his youth.

"Man, it made me feel like I was 10 years old again," Kozak said after getting the former players' signatures on a plaque commemorating the Colts' victory in the 1958 NFL Championship contest, still acclaimed as the Greatest Game Ever Played.

"I just idolized this group growing up," Kozak said. "These guys are heroes."


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