IRVINE, Calif. (AP) -- John Galardi, who opened a Wienerschnitzel hot dog stand in Los Angeles in 1961 and expanded it into a chain with more than 300 outlets in 10 U.S. states, has died, his company said Sunday.
Irvine, Calif.-based Galardi Group, parent company of Wienerschnitzel, Tastee Freez and The Original Hamburger Stand, said in a statement that Galardi died of pancreatic cancer on Saturday. He was 75.
A native of Kansas City, Galardi began working for Taco Bell founder Glen Bell at the restaurant Taco Tia in Pasadena in 1961, according to his company biography.
At age 23, looking to carve out a niche amid a fast-food landscape glutted with hamburger, chicken and taco restaurants, he opened his first restaurant, known as Der Wienerschnitzel, specializing in hot dogs and chili.
The stand in the Wilmington section of Los Angeles was the first of what would become a chain of some 350 restaurants selling more than 120 million hot dogs annually, the company statement said.
Most outlets are in California but they are found throughout the U.S. Southwest and as far east as Louisiana.
Galardi expanded the company to include The Original Hamburger Stand and ice-cream chain Tastee Freez.
He remained chairman of the Galardi Group until his death but handed over day-to-day operations to Chief Operating Officer Dennis Tase in 1993.
"Galardi built a brand representative of a time when life was simpler, a brand that holds a special place in the hearts of so many families in America," Tase said in a statement. "He will be deeply missed."
Galardi is survived by his wife Judane Galardi and four children.