After Wienerschnitzel founder John Galardi died last year, his former wife, Cindy Galardi Culpepper, stepped in as chief executive, working with the existing management team of parent company Galardi Group Inc.

Culpepper, who was married to Galardi for almost three decades, said she aims to expand on her former husband’s dream for the more-than-50-year-old hotdog brand — to grow while maintaining family ownership.

At some point, the Galardis’ son, John Ross Galardi, known as J.R., will likely take over the business, as was his father’s dream. But for now, the 25-year-old is learning the ropes and helping to move the brand into the future as chief visionary officer.

Irvine, Calif.-based Galardi Group operates and franchises 325 Wienerschnitzel locations, most of which are co-branded with the soft-serve ice cream brand Tastee Freez, along with 13 Hamburger Stand restaurants and the recently opened fast-casual Two Madres Mexican Kitchen.

The mostly-franchised Wienerschnitzel — known for its chili dogs, caramel- and chocolate-dipped ice cream cones and quirky marketing around a mascot known as “The Delicious One” — is the company’s focus for growth.

Galardi Group is testing a new prototype design with the original Wienerschnitzel A-frame build that has drive-thru and walk-up service only. The unit is scheduled to debut in El Paso, Texas, in September.


Culpepper recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about the new prototype and the company’s plans for growth.

John Galardi planned for you to take over the business?

Yes. He and I divorced back in 2009, and one of the conditions of the divorce was that if I were to die before John, he’d take the voting stock, but if he died before me, I had all the voting stock. I’d been involved in the business. I knew John for 33 years and we were married for 27, so I was his silent partner.

Having been with the founder of the company that long, you learn a lot about the history. You learn a lot about what their goals are and what the thinking is. My management team was also with John, so that really helped with the transition.

Did you consider hiring someone else to run the company?

Over the years, John had opportunities to sell. But this was his baby. He could never dispose of it. His dream was to live long enough to see our son John Ross take over. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. But he put me in this position, and it’s a perfect fit at this point because I’m so familiar with the management team. Most have been here well over 20 years, and some 30. Basically, I’m fulfilling his dream. I’m expanding the company, growing the company and getting ready for John Ross to take it over at some point.

He’s [John Ross] only 25. He started working at Wienerschnitzel at 14, and he’s grown up through the system. When he was 2, he carried a briefcase around to pretend he was going to the office with his father. He’s his father’s son.

What’s his role now?

His background is marketing, so he started a “visionary department,” and their primary focus is on Millennials and younger generations. So it’s about social media and attire and exposure with the community. He’s working on bringing this brand to the younger generation.

You can’t just stay with your very loyal customers. You have to continue to generate traffic, and that’s got to be through this younger generation.

So will we see mobile ordering at Wienerschntizel someday soon?

You might!