At a Kentucky Derby breakfast in the Governor’s mansion nine years ago, a young lawyer with a hunger for riches ran into a courtly old gent with a recipe for fried chicken. The rest is history: John Y. Brown Jr. built an $830 million empire around Colonel Harland Sanders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken. Having made his fortune, Brown sold out last year to Heublein Inc., a food and liquor distributor, and went into semi-retirement at age 37. But then he met Ollie Gleichenhaus, who runs a seven-stool hamburger joint in Miami Beach. Now Brown is determined to make him the Colonel Sanders of hamburgers.
Ollie is hardly the patriarchal Kentucky colonel type. A 60-year-old native of Brooklyn, he looks and sounds more like Archie Bunker’s big brother. But his hamburgers are something else: one-third pound of lean meat seasoned with 32 spices and a special sauce. Gleichenhaus, who insults customers and employees with equal abandon, takes his seasoning seriously; he often chastises patrons who unknowingly ask for ketchup or mustard.
Actually, Brown’s discovery of Gleichenhaus was not exactly serendipitous. Brown, the son of a longtime politician, retired from the chicken business in part because he wanted to become the Democratic candidate for Senator from Kentucky this fall, but then former Republican Governor Louie Nunn was nominated for the Senate, and Brown decided that maybe he would wait until 1974. He needed something to do meanwhile, an activity that would still leave him time for political jobs like organizing the telethon that netted more than $2,000,000 for the Democratic National Committee last month. Last August, accordingly, he bought Lum’s, a 340-outlet beer-and-hot-dog chain, for $4,000,000 in cash.
Lum’s franchises lost $150,000 last year—partly, says Brown, because “they did not have very good food. I figured that upgrading it would be my first task.” So Brown recruited a platoon of young executives and told them to scour the country until they found the perfect hamburger.
A month later they returned with Gleichenhaus. “I told John I was happy, I don’t need this,” Ollie recalls. “Then he told me he’d make me famous, bigger than the Colonel. He said my name would be in lights, on T shirts and plates, everywhere. He hit me in a weak spot.”
Lum’s hired Ollie to train its personnel, and it is now testing Ollie-burgers—at a high 95¢ each—in its Ohio outlets. Gleichenhaus is not entirely sure that Lum’s countermen can duplicate his masterpiece: “Those yo-yos are looking for a short way to make my burgers, but there’s no way other than the right way.” Even so, Brown intends to go nationwide with Ollie-burgers within a year, and has prepared 63 television commercials featuring Ollie in “an Archie Bunker kind of approach.”
The Ollie burger seasoning was sent to the Lums restaurant in a case which contained twenty four one pound bags. The prep personal had to prepare it one day ahead of time. The Ollie mixture was then painted on the top and bottom of the burger before it was put on the grill. In the beginning a grill press was used to cook the Ollieburgers (like the george Forman grill of today without ridges) This was to cook the Ollieburgers with the Ollie sauce painted on both sides evenly so the yo-yos at Lums could duplicate Ollie’s masterpiece. Lums also spread the bun with an Ollie dressing to insure that the Ollieburger had the Ollie taste. The bun dressing was also made from the Ollieburger seasoning.