WASHINGTON: Conventional wisdom suggests breakfast is the most important meal of the day. No one has proposed that it be the most expensive. Certainly not at Denny’s — America’s “fast casual” pancake house whose 1600 outlets have catered to the country’s middle class for over half a century — with its headquarters in the aptly-named Spartanburg in South Carolina.
But an Indian family that came to America with $300 in its pocket has decided to turn conventional wisdom on its head. The Marwahs think $300 plus taxes (approximately Rs 20,000) is an affordable breakfast price for two in wealthy and weighty. In a sign that the roaring twenties may be getting ready to repeat themselves a century later, their first Denny’s in the Big Apple announced a “Grand Cru Slam” brunch special for its opening this past weekend.
Besides the regular Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast (which ordinary comes at $5.99 elsewhere in the country), the Grand Cru Slam comes with a bottle of 2003 Dom Perignon Premier Cru champagne (which alone costs $300 in some NYC restaurants) and a “bartender high-five,” which usually comes free.
The Marwahs are a byword for franchises in California and Texas, where they run 22 Denny’s and an assortment of Subways, 7-Elevens, and Popeye’s, employing more than a 1000 people. It is their first foray into New York City. Indeed, it is the first Denny’s in Manhattan, a borough so hip and famous that it lends its name to a drink.
The Wall Street bull with tourists around for pictures on Broadway, New York City. (Getty Images photo)
Hip is not a term you’d use to describe Denny’s, which started as a coffee and donut outlet in the 1950s and became famous as an all-night diner chain that never shut its doors (many Denny’s were built without lock even) at nights or on holidays, and serves greasy, inexpensive breakfast.
Gurbax Rai Marwah (originally from Faridkot, Punjab) came to the US in 1971 after having served in the Indian Army’s Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers followed by a stint in the Central Public Works Department in New Delhi. Working as a Greyhound bus driver, running a car wash, leasing a Texaco gas station, and refurbishing and turning over homes were just some of the things he did before he caught the desi franchising fever with a 7-Eleven in the mid-80s. He bought his first Denny’s in 1995, and there has been no looking back since.
But the upscale Denny’s on Wall Street is the brainchild of his MBA degree-holder son Rahul and law graduate daughter Ritu, who are taking over some of the responsibilities of the family firm DenCo. They spend months studying the Manhattan market, working with image consultants and interior designers, before coming up with a swish diner lined with flat screen TVs, leather booths, and a copper-stamped ceiling, near the financial district’s Spruce Street
(Getty Images photo)
“You’re not just in a Denny’s — you’re in a Manhattan Denny’s. I thought we would stick out like a sore thumb if we looked like the average Denny’s,” Rahul Marwah said of the spruced-up, souped-up diner as the moolah-sniffing media headlined the opening over the weekend. “Denny’s aimed at 1% opens in New York with $300 Grand Slam,” read the streamer on CNN Money. From Bloomberg to Wall Street Journal, the opening got wall-to-wall coverage.
Not everything on the Manhattan Denny’s menu is off the charts or wallets. Denny’s loyalists can still find their favourites such as pancakes and hash browns at the same reasonable prices. Besides, one can also feast on unlimited Prosecco at the bar for much less than the 2003 Dom Perignon. But it doesn’t come with the bartender’s high-five.
If enough people order the Dom Perignon, it will be the Marwahs who will be high-fiving each other.