There are few restaurants national that can be considered American staples, restaurants in which everyone knows about and everyone has visited at least once in their lives. Denny's is one of those All-American restaurants. Recently they have been in the news because a major Denny's franchise owner in Florida stated he will be forced to increase his prices due to ObamaCare legislation that will go into effect January of 2014 (dailymail). How did this restaurant become such an icon in American history to the point that you consistently see them in movies and TV shows as a place where everyday Joe's eat?
After moving from Buffalo, New York, Harold Butler started a simple donut shop in 1953 with the idea of providing good coffee and donuts 24 hours a day. Originally called "Danny's Donuts" the location did very well very quickly and Harold started to open additional locations in 1954 under the revised name of "Danny's Coffee Shop." As the business grew so did his customers' desire for expanded menu options which is why Butler started including sandwiches and various entrees beyond just the donuts. In 1959 they had expanded to five locations however there was a growing confusion among customers between their coffee shops and a "Coffee Dan's" in the same area. It was decided that a change was needed so that same year Butler changed the name to "Denny's Restaurant" and the donuts, the foundation of Butler's original location, were removed from the menu. Their focus was on simple American food and coffee offered 24 hours a day. The question still remains, how did this small chain restaurant in California spread around the country in popularity and become that national icon it is today? The answer is the national highway system.
As the automobiles popularity grew in the twentieth century the idea of roads that stretched across the country grew with it. Although a few interstate highways were created such as the Lincoln Highway, there was nothing that truly connected the country. President Eisenhower saw the value of a national highway after being in Germany during World War 2 and utilizing the autobahn. Not only would it help the country grow and connect but Eisenhower saw the benefit of easily transporting military supplies and men across the country in the event of war. In 1956 the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act passed which funded projects all over the country to build the massive interstate system that we know today. Butler was one of the first to see the potential of using these new interstate highways and created a business model of building his restaurant along these roads, catering to travelers 24 hours a day. It is rare to find major chain restaurants today that are not built along or near a major interstate highway. Denny's pioneered the national chain restaurant by placing their locations along these interstate highways (Retail Merchandiser).
With the famous Grand-Slam breakfast, free meals on your birthday (which eventually ended in 1993), All-American meals, their great locations and low prices by 1981 Denny's grew to over 1000 locations and solidified their place as an American institution.