by Donia Moore
Raj Chopra, owner of the Denny’s restaurant franchise in San Clemente, has continued the Denny’s tradition of building community ties in this location since 1973. The restaurant has been generously supporting school and youth programs since its opening in 1955. One of the best of the community’s neighbors this friendly restaurant has fed several generations of San Clementeans as well as visitors passing through town or the I-5 corridor. Their Grand Slam breakfast is still one of their most popular menu items and has survived since its introduction in 1977 on the franchise’s upgraded and changing menus.
A San Clemente Icon…
You can’t get much more iconic for good roadtrip eats than Denny’s serves. Sure, there are fancier and more expensive eateries in town, but the Denny’s brand and guarantee of good, clean, family-oriented restaurants with food at reasonable prices has been going strong since 1953.
The first of these diner-style cafes made their appearance in Lakewood, California. Richard Jezak and Harold Butler joined forces to change the concept of a donut store to a coffee shop. Denney’s started out life as a donut stand in 1953, called Danny’s Donuts. The original building design was conceived by Armet and Davis. The flagstone walls, exhibition kitchen and sweeping check-shaped roof was easily recognized and used throughout the chain.
And International, Too
Of course, Americans are not the only diners that enjoy the Denny’s culture. You probably didn’t know that you could find a Denny’s franchise in almost every country in the world. Places where you can spot their familiar sign stretch from Korea to the Middle East and beyond. Strict franchise guidelines are closely followed, from the building designs to how often the restaurants must be refurbished (every seven years) and the menu updated (quarterly). Favorites stay on the menu but a few new items make an appearance, too.
Raj finds that the Denny’s corporation knows their market well and cares deeply about their customers and the experience they will have at their restaurants. As with any strongly connected franchise, there are random inspections, strong support at the corporate level, ongoing training and communication.
Raj, who arrived from New Delhi, India at the age of 24, came to the U.S. to visit his father’s sister, a long established Hollywood area resident. In India, he was educated as an Engineer, but decided that he wanted to build a business he could pass on to his family. His first job in the US was working as a dishwasher at the Los Angeles Hilton, and learning about the customer service standards of a fine hotel. He liked the concept of a family-owned and operated enterprise. He heard that the Denny’s in San Clemente was going to be available and after researching the brand carefully, he felt that he had found the right fit.
The Denny's chain was founded by Harold Butler and Richard Jezak, who opened Danny's Donuts in Lakewood, California in 1953. In 1956, a year after Jezak's departure from the then six-store chain, Butler changed the concept, shifting it from a donut shop to a coffee shop. Danny's Donuts was renamed Danny's Coffee Shops and changed its operation to 24 hours.
In 1959, to avoid confusion with the Los Angeles restaurant chain Coffee Dan's, Butler changed the name from Danny's Coffee Shops to Denny's Coffee Shops. In 1961, Denny's Coffee Shops was renamed Denny's. The business continued to expand, and by 1981, there were over 1,000 restaurants in all 50 U.S. states. In 1994, Denny's became the largest corporate sponsor of Save the Children, a national charity. All but six of the restaurants closed for the first time ever on Christmas 1988; many of the restaurants were built without locks, and some had reportedly lost their keys.
In Good Hands
Thanks to owner Raj Chopra with sons Paul and “G”, the San Clemente Denny’s has been able to maintain the quality that Mr. Butler pledged so many years ago. And it looks like this family-owned franchise will be hitting Grand Slams in San Clemente for a long time to come.