The following Back in the Day column was originally published in the Fairfield Daily Republic on Sept. 8, 2017
By Tony Wade
Who was Jack the Ripper? Are Bigfoot/The Loch Ness Monster/The Abominable Snowman real? What happened to Amelia Earhart?
These are all trivial mysteries compared to this confounding conundrum that has vexed Fairfielders for decades: Why are there two Denny’s restaurants within walking distance of one another?
One is located at 1360 Holiday Land next to In-N-Out Burger and the other, approximately 700 feet away, is at 2980 Travis Boulevard next to the Chevron station. For my purposes here, the In-N-Out one will henceforth be referred to Denny’s No. 1 and the Chevron one as Denny’s No. 2.
Now the two Denny’s have co-existed in that tight geographic space for some time due in part to them each being situated next to motels (No. 1 next to the former Holiday Inn – now the Courtyard by Marriott – and No. 2 by Motel 6).
Before going into the particulars of the twin Fairfield restaurants, let’s take a look back at the history of Denny’s itself.
Harold Butler and Richard Jezak opened Danny’s Donuts in 1953 in Lakewood. Three years later it had grown to a six-store chain, Jezak left and Butler changed it from a doughnut shop to Danny’s Coffee Shop. It also become a 24-hours-a-day operation.
The name was changed to Denny’s Coffee Shop in 1959 to avoid confusion with (and perhaps lawsuits from) a Los Angeles restaurant called Coffee Dan’s. There was no allegiance to the Danny’s name as it had not been named after a specific person. The owners had just liked the way “Danny’s Donuts” rolled off the tongue. It was shortened to Denny’s in 1961.
The business exploded and spread across the country. A Denny’s hallmark was the introduction in 1977 of the Grand Slam Breakfast – two eggs, two pieces of bacon, two sausage links, two pancakes. It honored “hammerin’ ” Hank Aaron, who’d shattered Babe Ruth’s home run record.
All but six Denny’s closed in 1988 for Christmas and many discovered that since they never closed, they either couldn’t find keys or that the doors didn’t even have locks.
So on to Fairfield. Denny’s No. 1 opened in 1971. It was built as a Denny’s and has never been anything else, which is why it is numero uno. Denny’s No. 2, however, had once been a different restaurant – Colony Kitchen – that also opened in 1971.
Let’s throw a bit more confusion into the equation, shall we? In addition to Colony Kitchen, there actually was another restaurant/catering business in Fairfield called Colonial Kitchen.
The latter establishment was around from the late 1950s to at least the mid-1970s and was located at 431 Union Ave. It had once been a Lions Club hall and was near Thiessen’s (when it was a feed and garden shop before it moved to Broadway Street and became a pet store).
Now, behind Denny’s No. 2 when it was Colony (not Colonial) Kitchen, there was another restaurant called Vicki’s Drive In. It was located at 1470 Holiday Lane, which is now the back of the Denny’s No. 2 across from Burger King.
OK, so forget about all those other eateries and let’s return to the original question: Why are there two Denny’s so close to one another?
Well, in December of 1983, Denny’s operated more than 1,000 restaurants in the United States and more 200 abroad. At that time the corporation also operated more than 850 Winchell’s Donut houses and 20 El Pollo Loco chicken outlets.
The next year they acquired 78 Colony Kitchen restaurants for a price of $11.3 million. By 1985, the Fairfield Colony (not Colonial, stay with me) Kitchen had become Denny’s No. 2 and passers-by on Interstate 80 began scratching their heads as they drove past the Travis Boulevard off-ramp (hopefully keeping one hand on the wheel).
While confusing, the two restaurants were great for locals who took advantage of the free-meal-on-your-birthday-policy Denny’s used to have by getting double freebies. That might be one of the reasons they changed it to only a free build-it-yourself slam some time ago.
So that is why there are two Denny’s so close to one another in Fairfield. But the story doesn’t end there. The decision of which Denny’s to frequent has split Fairfield families. It’s nearly as contentious as The Great Over or Under Toilet Paper Debate.
For the record, I’m a traditionalist and firmly in the Denny’s No. 1 camp.
Unless and until they stop accepting my 15 percent off discount with my AARP card.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.