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Published: Tuesday, 2/27/2007

Hot-dog chain sets its sights on Toledo

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Calamunci Calamunci
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A historic New York eatery wanting to be the McDonald's of hot dogs is opening its first store in Toledo, where it plans to have its corporate training site.

The company is beginning a franchise operation of Johnny's Lunch LLC that could develop 500 restaurants by 2011, said Tony Calamunci, an attorney with Roetzel & Andress in Toledo, and a third-generation family member of the restaurant firm.

The company opened in 1936 in Jamestown, N.Y., and specializes in hot dogs, burgers, fries, and milk shakes. It is to have its first local store open May 1 on Sylvania Avenue at Talmadge Road.

How many stores will be in metro Toledo is unclear, although the firm has signed deals for 25 stores in northwest Ohio and 75 in Michigan, Mr. Calamunci said. The firm is working on a deal for 50 stores in the New York-Pennsylvania area.

A franchise costs $200,000.

The owners are considering putting their headquarters in Toledo, Mr. Calamunci said.

"We want to be the top dog," he said. "That's our goal."

Terry Hill, a spokesman for the International Franchise Association in Washington, said the plans for Johnny's Lunch are ambitious.

"But there's no real rule of thumb," he said. "If it connects with the customer, they could pull it off."

He added: "One of the dangers of franchising is growing too fast. Sometimes a concept catches on fast and that can be one of the problems."

The new business began during the Great Depression when Mr. Calamunci's grandfather, Johnny Colera, figured he could make money by selling good, inexpensive food. He offered 10-cent hot dogs topped with his special hot sauce.

Later, the menu expanded to lunch-time fare of burgers, fries, rice pudding, and milk shakes, but the hot dog, which is still sold in multiples of threes, is the staple.

Mr. Calamunci and his brother, John, who runs the Jamestown restaurant, are heading the franchising effort. George Goulson, of Detroit, a franchise veteran who helped develop Little Caesar's, is the development director.

The owners plan to have eight stores by the end of this year, 30 to 40 next year, and, if successful, 500 within five years.

The company's largest competitors are national chains Nathan's, Wienerschnitzel, and Hot Dog on a Stick, but there would be local competition in each market.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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