Funeral services will be held Saturday, Aug. 3, for Louis Charles Fischer, 89, a founder of the Gino’s hamburger chain and the father of 10 children, who died Thursday, June 27 in The Villages, Fla.
Mr. Fischer, who lived in Villanova before retiring to Florida, helped launch the chain of fast-food restaurants in 1957 along with a group of athletes who were his friends. They included NFL Hall of Famer Gino Marchetti and Marchetti’s fellow Baltimore Colts players Alan Ameche and Joe Campanella.
Mr. Fischer and Campanella played football together at Ohio State University. When Campanella went to the Colts, he introduced Mr. Fischer to Marchetti and Ameche.
At its peak of popularity, Gino’s had 500 stores on the East Coast. Mr. Fischer was chairman and CEO of the chain, later based in King of Prussia. Gino’s was famous for its giant char-grilled burgers slathered in a secret sauce and its chipper jingle, “Everybody goes to Gino’s 'cuz Gino’s is the place to go.”
“Gino’s burgers were there by the bagful after Little League games, before David Bowie concerts, despite warnings from doctors to ‘cut back on the burgers,’” wrote Jason Nark in the Jan. 17, 2012, Daily News. “Then Gino’s went away, slowly, like an aging hairline, and eventually, you could go there only in your mind.”
In 1982, Marriott bought Gino’s for $48 million. The giant corporation wanted the Gino’s outlets to build another chain it owned, Roy Rogers. The last Gino’s closed in Maryland in 1991.
Mr. Fischer, who had become a business leader and millionaire, spent the rest of his life studying charitable causes and finding ways to support them. “He was a self-made millionaire who gave it all to the poor,” said son Ed. “We were blessed.”
Born in Pittsburgh to Louis Edward and Sarah McLaughlin Fischer, he graduated from Charleston Catholic High School in West Virginia and Ohio State, where he played football under coach Woody Hayes.
Mr. Fischer’s father died when he was 18, and he was able to attend college only by means of a football scholarship, his son said.
Mr. Fischer married his college sweetheart, Barbara Freeland, in 1953. They raised their large brood in Newtown Square.
Gino’s was known for its community involvement and philanthropy, which Mr. Fischer continued after the chain was sold. His motivating question was, “What do I have to give the world?” his family said.
Mr. Fischer served on the board of directors for the National Restaurant Association and the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.
He used his business expertise to expand the food marketing program at St. Joseph’s University, which was engaged in projects to reduce hunger in developing countries.
He sought to address poverty, injustice, hunger, education, and homelessness through scholarship programs and his work with Habitat for Humanity, Maryknoll (a Catholic international mission movement), the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the International Council of Christians and Jews, and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Mr. Fischer spent the last 11 years of his life volunteering at the Wildwood, Fla., Soup Kitchen, where he prepared meals and delivered them to the hungry and homebound. “He would sit down and eat with them, and get to know them,” his son said.
Mr. Fischer was appointed a papal gentleman-in-waiting, a ceremonial position in which the person escorts dignitaries in Rome on state visits to the Vatican. He was also inducted into the Ohio State President’s Club and received an honorary doctorate from St. Joseph’s. Despite the honors, he remained humble, his family said.
Mr. Fischer’s oldest son, Mark, preceded him in death. In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by children Marian Pearlman, Karen Bienemann, Sharon, Paul, Maureen Buzzo, Steve, Danny, and Michael; 25 grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and a large extended family.
A celebration of life will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, in the Michael J. Smith Chapel at St. Joseph’s University, 5600 City Ave. Burial is private.