One can't help but root for franchisee Anil Yadav to hit a grand slam.
He's invested roughly $2 million to bring Denny's to Richards Boulevard after losing his lease on the downtown location he ran for many years at J and Third streets.
Don't get me wrong. Yadav, who opened his new restaurant Sunday, is no longer the underdog he once was. He owns more Jack in the Box restaurants than any other franchisee in the nation. As for this latest Denny's, it is his 31st restaurant under that brand name. And we won't mention his Sizzlers.
Back in 1984, though, Yadav was a college freshman trying to get an electrical engineering degree from San Jose State University, and he needed a job. A friend suggested he try to get one from Jack in the Box. He landed a job as a fry cook and worked his way up to manager in a few years. Then he became the chain's youngest franchisee.
"In '89, I bought my first restaurant with the help of friends and family," the 47-year-old Yadav told me. "They gave me everything they had, and I was able to buy the franchise. They believed in me. Now, a number of them are minority partners."
Yadav, whose company is based in Fremont, would have liked to maintain the Denny's at Third and J, he said, but he was unable to negotiate terms with his landlords at Vagabond Inn. A Perko's Cafe now occupies his old spot.
He said the Richards site shares many of the same attributes as the old one, with good visibility from Interstate 5 and great traffic flow.
Denny's? He's lovin' it
If you want to know what portion of the dining day Denny's owns, ask Ray Gallo Jr., whose family owns the McDonald's restaurant on the other side of Richards Boulevard.
"It's late night," he said. "They dominate from 12 to 6. No one can even touch Denny's."
You can feel the electricity coming off Gallo, 35, as he talks about how much he welcomes the competition across the street. He even plans to start staying open all night to grab some of the traffic that Denny's attracts.
"I love the Grand Slam," he said. "I love the mozzarella sticks. I love the club sandwich, and I love the fact that now we're going to be able to go 24 hours. You've got to see the neon signs I bought."
All around the country, fast-food restaurants have been slowly eating away at Denny's late-night dominance, so it's no wonder that Gallo is planning to extend his hours as well.
Neon signs aren't the only changes the Gallos are making. They're spending $1 million to update their restaurant with McDonald's latest design concept. This new look takes some cues from Panera Bread or Starbucks with comfy seating, funky graphics for the walls, free Wi-Fi and contemporary hanging lights.
In the Richards Boulevard store, Gallo and his uncle James Bryant decided to further personalize the design. They snapped pictures of the Capitol, downtown, the I Street Bridge and the new terminal at Sacramento International Airport to incorporate as graphics for walls.
Gallo expects the new look to be a hit with many of the 400,000 to 500,000 children expected to visit the Powerhouse Science Center annually once it's constructed nearby. He and Bryant had the parking lot redone to accommodate buses.