Lexington businessman and philanthropist Warren Rosenthal, 96, who built the Long John Silver’s and Jerry’s restaurant brands, died Saturday.
Rosenthal began his career in the restaurant business in 1948, selling hamburgers for a nickel at a Jerry’s Restaurant in Lexington.
He went on to become chief executive officer and president of Jerrico, leading the publicly-traded company as it developed a chain of more than 1,350 Long John Silver’s seafood restaurants, as well as scores of Jerry’s Restaurants and other eateries that came and went through the years.
Rosenthal also owned Patchen Wilkes Farm, which is known for its white Thoroughbreds.
He was born in Paducah and was married to the late Betty Rosenthal. He is survived by a daughter, Carol Rosenthal, two granddaughters and three great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 10 a.m. to noon Monday at Temple Adath Israel on North Ashland Avenue. Services will follow at 1 p.m. Milward Funeral Directors is in charge of arrangements.
Former Lexington mayor Jim Gray said Rosenthal and the late William T. Young were both “extraordinary figures in Lexington.”
“They were both up from the bootstraps ... just gifted entrepreneurs, and they were both civic minded in an extraordinary way,” Gray said.
Rosenthal was known as a strong supporter of the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University, as well as a host of other organizations, including Junior Achievement of the Bluegrass and the Child Development Centers of the Bluegrass.
He is credited with helping keep Renfro Valley Entertainment Center in operation.
“Warren was a giver,” said Norwood “Buddy” Cowgill Jr. “I think he had a soft spot for young people. ... Warren gave an awful lot of time. With him it wasn’t just all money.”
Ann Rosenstein-Giles, a longtime friend, agreed. She said Rosenthal “was a great mentor” who treasured being able to share what he had learned with others.
Rosenthal was one of the first people inducted into the Kentucky Entrepreneur Hall of Fame.
As a restaurateur, Cowgill said Rosenthal sought perfection and could be “tough as nails” when things were out of place.
Cowgill, a businessman who had Rosenthal on the boards of two of his real estate companies, worked for Rosenthal for three years when he was just out of college and managed a Jerry’s restaurant.
“If you had a couple lights out, he would hit the ceiling,” recalled Cowgill. “He was after the details.”
He said Rosenthal worked on recipe development himself and paid careful attention to the numbers at his restaurants.
But he also believed in treating his employees, suppliers and customers fairly, Cowgill said.
“He was a very loyal type of operator to his suppliers and his people,” he said.
Gray said he will remember Rosenthal as a man who “had the vision to see around corners, and the wisdom to change his mind.”
He shared two letters Rosenthal sent him just weeks apart in the spring of 2014. In the first, Rosenthal asked him not to “create an unnecessary indebtedness” by renovating Rupp Arena.
In the second, Rosenthal said he had seen the model for the renovations and the financial plan for paying for them. He had reversed positions completely.
“Without question, the project as designed will enhance the downtown community and increase the business activity,” he wrote. “I now am highly in favor of this project.”
Gray has the two letters framed side by side, along with a quote attributed to Winston Churchill: “A man who never changes his mind never changes anything.”
Gray said Rosenthal “was not stuck in the past.”
“Even at an advanced age, he was always thinking young, was always thinking about the future,” he said.