Lum’s was a casual restaurant chain known for its beer-steamed hot dogs and mouthwatering Ollieburgers.
The Florida-based chain has peaked in around 400 restaurants nationwide, including at least a half-dozen outlets in the Rochester area that debuted here in the late 1960s.
For a while, Lum’s – also spelled Lums – had Milton Berle, the television pioneer known as “Uncle Miltie,” as a commercial launcher. The founders of the company then traded catering for casinos, and a subsequent owner was the head of a fast food giant and a former professional basketball team as well as a future governor.
Stuart and Clifford Perlman founded Lum’s in 1956 in Miami Beach. The brothers had four restaurants in 1961 and began to aggressively expand and franchise the business.
Lum’s arrived in Rochester around 1969 and eventually had restaurants at sites such as West Ridge Road in Greece, West Henrietta Road in Brighton, Howard Road in Gates, Pittsford Plaza, East Ridge Road in Irondequoit, and Mosley Road in Perinton. Along with hot dogs and burgers, people on Facebook remembered roast beef sandwiches, clam strips, seasoned fries and more.
The prices were easy on the wallet, wrote Jeff Wilkin of Albany, a former Rochesterian. He said he and his classmates at the Aquin Institute in the 1970s would go see movies with their dates and follow that up with a visit to Lum’s.
âIt was a much fancier place than McDonald’s or the Red Barn, a place that teens could afford that actually had a menu,â wrote Wilkin, a former Democratic journalist and columnist. âA visit to Lum’s meant you were having a big date and trying to impress with your very chic choice of restaurants.â
Hot dogs steamed in beer became one of Lum’s early signatures. The seasoned Ollieburgers arrived a bit later.
At the corporate level, the Perlman brothers withdrew from the company within a decade. Lum’s Inc. bought Caesars Palace in 1969 for around $ 60 million and sold the restaurant chain two years later. Clifford Perlman, who died in 2016, was Chairman and CEO of Caesars Palace until 1982, according to an obituary. The article stated that the brothers were involved in other gambling complexes in Lake Tahoe and Atlantic City and that they had created the first public gambling company “and the financial structure of the Las Vegas casino industry such that it exists today “.
The Perlmans sold Lum’s to John Y. Brown, who had been president of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Brown also bought the NBA Buffalo Braves in the 1970s and was involved in deals that moved the team to California; he was governor of Kentucky from 1979 to 1983.
Brown was responsible for bringing the Ollieburger to Lum’s. He bought the secret recipe for $ 1 million from the creator, a man named Oliver Gleichenhaus, who had served them at his Miami Beach sandwich shop for decades.
“In 1971 a man walked into the store, slowly ate five Ollieburgers, declared them the best burgers he had ever tasted, and then introduced himself as John Y. Brown,” read an obituary from 1991 for Gleichenhaus. Brown promised to make the Ollieburger famous, which he accomplished through his company Lum. He then sold Lum’s to a Swiss holding company.
Many people have posted Milton Berle’s ads on Facebook, many of which can be found on Youtube. John Robortella of Canandaigua met the comedy legend in a Gates Lum’s in the 1970s.
Robortella was a reporter for the Gates-Chili News at the time. He got a call from a PR consultant asking if he wanted to have lunch with Uncle Miltie.
âI sat next to Milton Berle and after lunch he went behind the counter to pretend he was making a Lum’s burger,â Robortella wrote. He took a photo, but the publication published another instead. âLum’s wasn’t very happy that the photo of Milton behind the counterâ¦ didn’t make the paper,â Robortella added.
By 1979, five of the six Lum’s restaurants in County Monroe were sold and the sixth, in Pittsford Plaza, was closing. Three years later, the parent company filed for bankruptcy. By the end of 1983, most of the remaining Lums around Rochester closed rather abruptly. Some reopened under new ownership a few years later, but the end was near. An advertisement in early 1986, for example, detailed an auction of equipment from the old Lum’s in Irondequoit.
Other Lums across the country have lasted longer, although the last one closed in 2017 in Bellevue, Nebraska.
What happened toâ¦? is an article about the old haunts of Rochester and is based on our archives.
Morrell is a Rochester-based freelance writer.
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in November 2016.