Fast-Food Pioneer Gill Centioli Owned 42 Kentucky Fried Chicken Outlets

Gill A. Centioli, a pioneer in Seattle's fast-food business, started with a Rainier Valley 19-cent hamburger stand in 1950. When he retired in 1983, he sold a chain of 42 Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises.

"He was a very astute businessman. He was one of the more outstanding people that we had in this state for the industry," said Jack Gordon, former vice president of the Restaurant Association of the State of Washington.

Mr. Centioli, the son of Italian immigrants but born and raised in Seattle, died Friday of a heart attack. He was 80.

In the late 1940s, while owner of Gill's Beachead and Wheelroom, a restaurant in downtown Seattle, Mr. Centioli heard about a concept called fast food.

"He got in his car with my mother and drove to California," said his son Gerard.

In 1950, he opened the first 19-cent hamburger stand in Seattle, said his son-in-law Bruce Biesold. Gil's Hamburgers was missing an "l," Biesold said, because it looked better and was less costly to make the neon signs for his expanding business.

Always looking for new ideas, Mr. Centioli attended a restaurant conference in 1957 where he met Col. Harlan Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Converting his three hamburger stands into Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets, his chain of franchises eventually grew to 42.

"He was a real positive person. He was always up for something new," said his daughter Dorene McTigue.

Besides his success in business, Mr. Centioli was a family man.

Each of the past 15 years, he treated the entire family - 23 in all - to a trip to Hawaii.

"That's what he loved, just being around his children and his grandchildren," Gerard Centioli said.

Mr. Centioli also was a longtime member of the restaurant association, serving as president in 1981. He was past president of the Rainier Rotary.

He was active in the Italian community, a member of the Casa Italiana board of governors, the Festa Italiana board of trustees and the West Side Italian Club.

Mr. Centioli is survived by his wife of 54 years, Alma, of Issaquah; daughter Phyllis Biesold and her husband, Bruce, of Issaquah; daughter Dorene McTigue and her husband, Terry, of Bellevue; son, Gerard Centioli and his wife, Debora, and granddaughters Lauren and Cicilia of Medina; daughter Gloria Jean Sauro and her husband, Paul, and grandchildren Marissa and Paul John of Issaquah; grandson Todd Biesold and his wife, Elisa, and great grandson, Gill, of North Bend; granddaughter Ronna Schmidt and her husband, Peter, of Madison Park; grandson Jeffrey Biesold and his wife, Sonja, of Issaquah, and grandsons Gabriel and Michael McTigue of Seattle.

A vigil will be held at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and a Mass at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Monica's Catholic Church, 4301 88th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island.

Remembrances can be made to the Gill A. and Alma Centioli Endowed Scholarships at Seattle University, Gonzaga University or the University of Washington.