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10 Things You Might Not Know About Denny's

From television tie-ins to jambalaya in Japan, Denny's has been serving up grand slams at midnight for decades.

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY NAMED "DANNY’S."

Richard Jezak and Harold Butler opened the first "Danny’s Donuts" in Lakewood, Calif. in 1953. There was no notable “Danny” in either of their lives; they just thought the alliteration was charming. The 24-hour doughnut shop grew quickly, expanding to a larger menu and roughly 20 locations by 1959, and changing its name to Danny’s Coffee Shops along the way. But the founders worried that the mini-chain was at risk of getting confused with nearby Coffee Dan’s, so they switched one letter to create the Denny’s we know today.

2. HANK AARON INSPIRED THE SIGNATURE BREAKFAST.

Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast combo platter debuted in an Atlanta location in 1977, as a nod to Hank Aaron, who had set a new MLB home run record while playing for the Braves three years before.

3. DENNY’S ALMOST NEVER CLOSES—WHICH MEANS IT ONCE OVERLOOKED A VERY IMPORTANT FEATURE...

Denny’s has been famous for decades for their 24-hour promise all 365 days of the year—if you want breakfast food late at night on a Sunday, Denny’s has you covered. But the problem with this policy took a few years to show itself: When almost all the Denny’s locations closed for Christmas Day in 1988, many stores realized that they didn’t have any keys, or even locks, since they never used them. All told, 700 of the 1221 restaurants needed to get new locks installed for the holiday.

4. WHEN DENNY’S OFFERED FREE FOOD, THEY REALIZED HOW MANY PEOPLE LOVE FREE FOOD.

In 2009 and 2010 Denny’s ran a rather tantalizing Super Bowl ad. The spot promised a free Grand Slam breakfast to all customers one day the week following the big game. After serving up two million free meals each of those years, the chain called off the free-for-all.

5. DENNY’S LOVED BREAKING BAD.

Few companies wanted to be associated with the gritty show, but Breaking Bad paid Denny’s to use one of the restaurants in multiple scenes, and despite the unsavory nature of the scenes (like, a place to grab a bite after a murder), the brand embraced the connection, which helped kick off a new kind of product placement. Last year, fans were outraged when the Albuquerque location that appeared in the show moved, even if it was just two miles away.

6. IT'S ALSO BEEN ON SOUTH PARK.

Denny’s was an early adopter of the belief that if something is good, adding bacon to it only makes it better. In 2011, they unveiled a “Baconalia” menu, which featured the popular pork product in items like pancakes, meatloaf, and even an ice cream sundae. The decadent offerings made a brief cameo on South Park where the boys all show up every night for Baconalia; again, Denny's loved the exposure. Two years later, Denny’s brought back an expanded Baconalia menu for another brief stint.

7. DENNY’S LOVES THE HOBBIT MOVIES.

In both 2012 and 2013, Denny’s featured a limited-time Middle Earth menu pegged to installments of The Hobbit movies. Most of the items included classic autumnal flavors like turkey, pecan, and pumpkin, and seemed plenty hearty enough to not necessitate a second breakfast.

8. IN JAPAN, DENNY’S MAKES JAMBALAYA—IN MICROWAVABLE FORM.

The Japanese Denny’s menu has some divergences from what we know here in America. One of the most notable is the jambalaya—which is so popular that this year, Denny’s partnered with the makers of Cup of Noodle to create a line of instant microwavable jambalaya, available in grocery stores and Denny’s locations across Japan.

9. NEW YORK CITY’S DENNY’S ADDS A LITTLE CLASS TO CLASSIC DINER BREAKFAST.

New York City got its first Denny’s in 2014, and the Financial District diner does things a little differently than other locations. To infuse a little Big Apple sophistication, the menu includes cocktails—often pricier than main courses—and a $300 “Grand Cru Slam” breakfast. For the cost of an upscale dinner, a pair of patrons can get two grand slam breakfasts and a vintage bottle of 2003 Dom Perignon Premier Cru champagne—and a “bartender high-five.”

10. DENNY’S LANDED SOME BIG-NAME CELEBS FOR A WEB SERIES.

In 2011, eager to attract a younger demographic, Denny’s debuted “Always Open,” a web series featuring SNL alum and Anchorman star David Koechner chatting with major celebrities like Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, and Chris Pratt at an L.A. Denny’s. Denny’s partnered with CollegeHumor.com and production company DumbDumb for the unscripted, three- to four-minute videos, which didn’t even include any direct mention of the brand.

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
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The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

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