Monday, March 28, 2011

Harold Butler, Entrepreneur, founder of Denny’s Restaurant

Entrepreneurs are an integral part of my family history. Both my grandfathers were life-long entrepreneurs, but family member about who I am reporting is a cousin on my father’s side. My father had a cousin named Harold Butler, whom I have met.  Harold’s mother and my paternal grandmother were sisters, so some of this report is anecdotal.
Harold Butler (1921 to 11 July 1998), born and raised in Buffalo, New York, was one of many children. Personal anecdote reports that Harold’s father disappeared when Harold was in his youth. The family reportedly counted buttons for money. Harold also sold donuts, which allowed him to purchase a row boat. He used this row boat, goes the family lore, to take paying customers out on Lake Erie for short rides. My mother was a little fuzzy about the donut connection, but apparently he eventually owned a donut shop in Buffalo. He decided he didn’t want to live the rest of his life in Buffalo, however, so he moved to California, which is where he started a donut shop he called “Danny’s Donuts”. (Schwartz, 2011)
In 1953, Harold founded the first of his donut shops, which he called “Danny’s Donuts”. The Denny’s corporate site reports that he used the name “Danny” because he felt that would have a large appeal to the general public. (Denny's Restaurant, 2011)  I am guessing he used the name “Danny” because “Father Knows Best” was a popular TV show and Danny Thomas was the male lead of the show.  According to Denny’s corporate site, it only took Harold a year to expand his donut shops and he decided to add sandwiches and other entrees to his menu (Denny's Restaurant, 2011), again, I suppose, to increase the appeal of his shops to the general public, and this served to differentiate him from McDonald’s, which was a healthy and growing franchise, even then. By 1959, Danny’s Donuts had been renamed as “Denny’s Restaurants” and had become a 20 restaurant chain (Denny's Restaurant, 2011)
The differentiation from McDonald’s while still using the franchise model set up by Rae Croc was a critical factor in Denny’s Restaurant growth. Harold’s concept for Denny’s was to be a restaurant that offered decent food for low prices, in high volume with uniform menus and fast service. The difference from the diner model would then be the uniformity of the service and menu, giving people continuity wherever they went, as long as there was a Denny’s available. In fact, Denny’s occupies a unique niche, as it is a hybrid between a donut shop, a franchise and a diner. This is the crux of Harold Butler’s success in building this particular business. He did go on to build some other businesses, most of which were restaurant chains. When one chain's fortunes failed or declined, Butler went on to another one.
"I love to feed people," is the way he once explained his dedication.” (Oliver, 1998)
Submitted by: Karen Schwartz-Mcgady
Denny's Restaurant. (2011, March 19). Denny's Restaurants History. Retrieved March 19, 2011, from Denny's Restaurants:
Oliver, M. (1998, July 11). LA Times|Article Collections|Obituaries. Retrieved March 21, 2011, from LA Times Archives:
Schwartz, E. B. (2011, March 19). (K. Schwartz-McGady, Interviewer)

  Denny’s Timeline (Denny's Restaurant, 2011)2011
Harold Butler founds the first Denny’s in Lakewood, California, under the name Danny’s Donuts.
Butler opens additional Danny’s Donut shops and expands the menu to include sandwiches and other entrees.
Now a 20-restaurant chain, Danny’s Donuts name is changed to Denny’s.
Denny’s makes its initial public offering on the American and Pacific Coast Stock Exchanges.
Denny’s introduces the Grand Slam Breakfast in Atlanta as a nod to Hank Aaron. It went on to become Denny’s most famous, and still-popular, breakfast.
Denny’s continues to grow, now with over 1,000 restaurants across the country.
Denny’s headquarters moves from Irvine, California, to Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Denny’s becomes the largest corporate sponsor of the national charity Save the Children.
Denny’s common stock is relisted on The NASDAQ Stock Market under a “DENN” ticker symbol as a result of the company’s sustained sales growth and continued improvements to its restaurant operations.
Denny’s ends the year with system wide sales of $2.4B and $1.72M average unit sales for company-operated restaurants.
Carolinas Minority Supplier Development Council named Denny's Corporation of the Year in Supplier Diversity
Denny’s parent company, Advantica Restaurant Group, Inc., is renamed Denny’s Corporation to reflect the one brand focus.
Black Enterprise magazine ranks Denny’s at the top of its list of “Best 40 Companies for Diversity” in July 2006.
Denny’s remains the largest family-service restaurant in America, with 21,000 employees and 1,546 restaurants.
(Denny's Restaurant, 2011)


  1. This is very impressive entrepreneur’s story especially because he was your relative. That’s awsome that you have entrepreneur’s gens! Go ahead and good luck with something that would be your “Denny’s”.

  2. This is a great story. Its pretty cool that you have such close ties with such a successful entrepreneur.

  3. Could you imagine what America would be without the grand slam? Denny's revolutionized the food industry, and it's in your family history!

  4. I've seen a lot of different calgary plumbers where they don't exactly know what they want.

  5. I never knew that Denny's started out as a doughnut shop! I don't even think they offer donuts anymore. I think a great marketing campaign would be for them to bring back their donuts for a limited time.

  6. Brillance. Pure brillance! Thanks for the hints and flavors of it in your story telling. the hank aaron tid bit or the danny know's best thought. etc. Hope you're still writing. Good stuff! thanks again. M

  7. nice story .... i will try follow this rules in future
    startups ideas