The Little Franchise That Couldn’t

Photo by Julie Sweeney via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In The Bitter Southerner, Keith Pandolfi introduces us to Miami trolley-based sandwich magnate Ollie Gleichenhaus, who worked for years to perfect the 36 herbs and spices that flavored his eponymous Ollieburger

Three decades later, to goose sales at his fledgling McDonald’s franchise in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, a former Bob’s Big Boy employee named Jim Delligatti… piled two beef patties, some “special sauce,” lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame-seed bun. He christened the burger “The Aristocrat,” but when he realized how difficult a time his customers had pronouncing the name, he came up with a new one — the Big Mac.

But those origin stories pale in comparison to the grandiose ambitions of Ollie Gleichenhaus, who professed an almost erotic connection to the burger he created.

“I started out to make the best hamburger,” he once told the Palm Beach Post. “It satisfies me … it turns me on.”

Eventually the same person responsible for turning KFC into a nationwide chain tried to do the same with the Ollieburger, working with Gleichenhaus to bring Ollie’s Trolley to every American. As you know if you’re traveled in the U.S., which is decidedly not dotted with Ollie’s Trolleys, it didn’t take off. Maybe that’s because America rejected the highly-spiced burger — or maybe it’s because the real secret sauce was Ollie himself, and there was no way to franchise him.

Most of the old newspaper reports about the Sandwich Shop make it clear that what drew those celebrities wasn’t just the burgers, but Ollie himself, whose caustic demeanor both entertained and, if what Gleichenhaus says is true, inspired them.

“Rodney Dangerfield used to write material in my place,” Ollie told the Post.

“He got all his material from me,” Ollie said of Rickles.

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