The year 1953 was an interesting and eventful time. According to The People History (, the average home price 1953 was $9,550 in post-war America, a new car cost $1,650, and gasoline was $.20 a gallon. Of course, average annual wages were only $4,000. The annual rate of inflation was just over 0.8%.

The Korean War ended, World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated as the 34th U.S. President, and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was celebrated in June, a year after the sudden death of her father, King George VI. In that year, Chain Store Guide celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first-of-its-kind publication, The List of Restaurant Chains. After decades of war and before that the Great Depression, the general public was enjoying a peaceful and prosperous era. James Bond, the Corvette, and Playboy magazine all made their debut in 1953, and the first successful ascent of Mount Everest was achieved by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The first color TV was introduced, as was the first transistor radio.

Also debuting in 1953 were several iconic foodservice brands that are still a popular part of today’s family-dining scene. Celebrating their 60th birthdays this year are The Original Pancake House, Bob Evans, and Denny’s.

The Original Pancake House was founded in Portland OR by Les Highet and Emma Hueneke, and 60 years later, members of the Highet families are still at the helm. Its nearly 120 locations can be found in 28 states from coast to coast and out into the Pacific Ocean with two restaurants in Hawaii. With only a few exceptions, the restaurants are open for breakfast and dinner only, and the menu is strictly breakfast food such as pancakes, waffles, crepes, omelets, and cereal. The company maintains one corporate location, and the remainder are franchised to others.

The first restaurant of what would eventually become Bob Evans was a 12-stool diner in Gallipolis OH operated by farmer Bob Evans in 1948. He began making sausage to serve his customers, and the popularity of the product led him to found a sausage-manufacturing company. In 1953 friends and family became business partners in the establishment of a company called Bob Evans Farms. From that humble beginning arose the foodservice corporation now known as Bob Evans Farms Inc., a publicly-held company with revenues exceeding $1.65 billion and operating more than 700 restaurants (including its casual-dining concept Mimi’s Café) in more than 30 states. Bob Evans sausage and other food products still account for approximately 18% of total revenue and are currently available in more than 30,000 retail stores. Unlike The Original Pancake House, all Bob Evans and Mimi’s Café restaurants are corporately-owned and -operated. In November 2012, the corporation announced that it is exploring options for its Mimi’s operations, including the possible sale of the segment. At this point, there are no plans to open new Mimi’s locations in the foreseeable future, although two new Bob Evans restaurants are planned.

Harold Butler founded Danny’s Donuts in Lakewood CA in 1953, and the first location opened a year later. By 1959, there were 20 restaurants and the name had been changed to Denny’s to avoid confusion with another chain with a similar sounding name. Its initial public offering was made in 1966, and by 1981 there were more than 1,000 restaurants in all 50 states. Denny’s was acquired by Trans World Corporation in 1987, and in 1991 the restaurant operator relocated its corporate operations from Irvine CA to Spartanburg SC, the home of Trans World. The company is known for its restaurants that never close, and many of them have been built without locks on their doors. Like its two contemporaries, Denny’s is a family-oriented organization that features its breakfast food around the clock. Unlike the other two, Denny’s has nearly 200 company-owned and -operated restaurants along with more than 1,500 franchised locations. Its current 12% company-operated portfolio is down from 34% six years ago; its refranchising goal is a 90%/10% portfolio mix. Denny’s was also named the full-service restaurant of choice for the travel centers operated by Pilot Flying J.

Will companies such as Tilted Kilt (celebrating its 10th anniversary this year) and Orange Leaf Holdings (5th birthday) still be around in another 50 or 55 years? It’s a very different world in which they operate, and consumers are much more demanding than they were in the more laid-back ‘50s. However, going forward, Chain Store Guide will continue to focus on companies that have stood the test of time, as well as the upstarts hoping to achieve the same longevity.



In the month of December, Chain Store Guide received responses from 157 restaurant operators with at least five locations. Of the companies surveyed, almost half are currently using some type of mobile device inside at least one of their restaurants. Apple products (iPad, iPod, and iPhone) continue to maintain a narrow margin, but other non-Apple, non-Android tablets made a strong showing.

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