John Galardi, 75, founder and chairman of Galardi Group, parent company of Wienerschnitzel, The Original Hamburger Stand, and Tastee Freez, passed away of pancreatic cancer on Saturday, April 13.

Galardi began as an eager entrepreneur determined to make it in the world of fast food. Over the past 52 years, Galardi has guided Wienerschnitzel from a single hot dog stand in 1961 to what is now: the world’s largest hot dog chain, owning or operating 350 locations and selling more than 120 million hot dogs annually.

Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Galardi moved to Southern California when he was 19 years old and entered the restaurant business working for Taco Bell founder Glen Bell, at Taco Tia in Pasadena, California. 

While hamburgers, chicken, and tacos were in fierce competition, Galardi carved out his own niche with hot dogs and chili when he opened his first “Der Wienerschnitzel” restaurant at the age of 23.

A true entrepreneur, he expanded Galardi Group into a multibranded company with the additions of The Original Hamburger Stand and Tastee Freez. Galardi is best known for his world-famous, secret-recipe chili that has kept fans coming back for more since day one.

While he continued to serve as chairman of Galardi Group, Galardi had stepped away from the day-to-day management of the company, which is handled by Dennis Tase, who serves as COO. Tase was hired as director of marketing in 1981 and named president and COO in 1993.

“The entire Galardi Group family of employees and franchisees are deeply saddened by the loss of Wienerschnitzel founder John Galardi,” Tase says.

“A true pioneer in the restaurant industry, Galardi’s entrepreneurial spirit was the cornerstone of the company’s success,” he adds. “Along with founding Wienerschnitzel, he expanded the Galardi Group into a multibranded company with the additions of The Original Hamburger Stand and Tastee Freez. Since it all began in 1961, he has touched countless lives through his generosity as a business leader and his legacy will forever live on.

“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 continues. “He will be deeply missed.”

Galardi is survived by his wife, Judane, and his four children. A service to celebrate his life is planned. 

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