Franchise Spotlight: Dawn Lafreeda, Denny’s

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What were you doing when you were 23 years old? If you were anything like Denny’s franchisee Dawn Lafreeda, you were buying your first of many restaurants.

“I soon realized,” she told Direct Capital, “that five restaurants weren’t enough, then ten wasn’t enough, then twenty wasn’t enough; and I realized that I loved building restaurants and feeding people.

“I feel grateful every day that I get to live the American Dream.”

How She Got Her Start

Lafreeda, who has gone from a waitress to the woman who now owns the “largest single-ownership Denny’s franchise chain in the United States,” got her start in 1984 when she and a friend, a Denny’s manager, purchased a non-Denny’s restaurant in Globe, Arizona, she told Food and Drink Magazine.

18 months later, the two broke into the Denny’s market and purchased 4 restaurants in West Texas. According to the magazine, they ended up opening 9 more restaurants together  and, “Then I bought her out and continued to grow the company.”

And this was all at the ripe age of 23. Lafreeda told Entrepreneur in a 2014 interview that being a young, female business owner wasn’t always  easy but she didn’t let it stop her.

“Growing up poor gives you a certain kind of passion,” she told Direct Capital. “You know when you’re young if you want something you’re going to have to work for it. The only way I was going to get something was by going after it.”

Where She is Today

Her headstrong, go-for-it attitude paid off. As of Spring 2015, Lafreeda owns 75 restaurants throughout Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Illinois.

Being one of the largest franchisees has its perks. She said, “I am fortunate that I get to sit on committees and help decide what works and test proposed ideas, projects, and menu items.”

Lafreeda has had a seat on the Denny’s Franchise Association Board (DFA) for 14 years now , and also serves as the treasurer. The DFA, she said, “represents and protects the interests of the franchisees.” Together, the members get to collaborate, share ideas, and work on issues that are important to not only the franchise community, but the brand as a whole.

Why Denny’s?

“My company serves over a million people a month,” Lafreeda told Direct Capital. “I love to go in. I love to talk to customers and see how their meal is, what they like about Denny’s, what we can do better and what makes them want to come back.”

When Entrepreneur asked Lafreeda why she doesn’t diversify brands, she said, “[Denny’s] took a chance on me as a young kid and helped me grow. I’ve been fulfilled by my relationship with them.”

Lafreeda, who celebrated her 30th year in business in 2014, told Entrepreneur she definitely couldn’t do it without the people she works with every day. “I have a dedicated team that’s been with me for a very long time. They’re seasoned, they know restaurants, and they know Denny’s. I could not do it without them and their passion. I am surrounded with really great people.”

But it’s not just her team that makes her love Denny’s and the restaurant business as a whole – it’s the customers, too. “We have something for everybody. No matter what your budget is or who you are, come as you are.”

Why Direct Capital?

Being one of the largest Denny’s franchisees leaves her many options when it comes to using cash or financing, but Lafreeda continues to use Direct Capital. Why?

“Direct Capital understands the value and what a restaurant can generate in cash flow if it’s the right location,” she said in the 2015 interview. “It’s wonderful to have a lending partner that understands your business.”

For Lafreeda, speed is everything. When she has a project coming up that requires a two-week turn around for capital, she knows she can count on Direct Capital: “As fast as I want to get the deal done, Direct Capital can accommodate me. They’re my go-to company.”

And even more importantly for her and the brand she loves, Lafreeda said, is the model Direct Capital has created with Denny’s. It creates, she explained, “a lending relationship so franchisees can get money to build their own dream. That’s where Direct Capital has been really great for the Denny’s brand.

“I think Direct Capital is a great choice and a terrific source for people who have a few restaurants and are just looking at starting to grow their business. It’s been a  wonderful partnership. I love working with Direct Capital.”

To discover ways that Direct Capital can help your franchise grow like Dawn’s, visit our Franchise Financing page!