In 1961, when he was just 23 years old, John Galardi made culinary history. He opened the original Wienerschnitzel hot-dog stand in Wilmington and introduced the world to his now-famous chili cheese dog.

That restaurant still sits along the Pacific Coast Highway serving hot dogs, and while it is now among 330 Wienerschnitzel locations, as of last month it is an official historic L.A. landmark.

But it wasn’t his chili-smothered cuisine that earned Galardi a place in history.

The original Wienerschnitzel was built with a drive-through that literally cuts the building in half. The design is just one of many examples of the L.A. car culture during the 1960s that later helped reshape the fast-food industry.

Wienerschnitzel, owned by the Galardi Group Inc., now based in Irvine, is just the second fast-food establishment to be deemed a historic landmark by L.A.’s Cultural Heritage Commission. Chatsworth’s Munch Box was first, designated in 2003.

Cindy Galardi Culpepper, the company’s chief executive, said the historic landmark dedication represents more than just the monetary success of the hot-dog brand. It represents the American dream, she said, and the years of hard work spent by her late ex-husband, John Galardi, who died last year.

“He was a true entrepreneur,” she said. “He started with nothing and virtually no help and from that one store, he built hundreds.”

After a bank approved Galardi for a loan, he built the first 600-square-foot Der Wienerschnitzel stand (the “Der” has since been dropped). Now the brand is the largest hot-dog chain in the world, dishing out more than 120 million franks a year.

Galardi Culpepper believes her late ex-husband’s success was purely driven from his family values. To carry on the tradition, their son. J.R. Galardi, 25, has since started working full time at the corporate headquarters in Orange County and is expected to one day run the chili-dog empire.

Meantime, Galardi Culpepper hopes other entrepreneurs might find inspiration from the old hot-dog stand, still painted in mustard yellow and ketchup red.

“It’s a testament to the American dream,” she said. “Here’s this man who at 23 had a dream. Now when people see that building – and it’ll be there forever – they’ll remember him.”

– Cale Ottens

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