Denny’s Goes Upscale With $300 Champagne Brunch in NYC

Denny’s Corp., the restaurant chain known for dishes such as the Grand Slam and Moons Over My Hammy, is opening its first diner in New York City.

The restaurant opens at 5 a.m. today on the ground-floor of a luxury residential building on Nassau Street in lower Manhattan, across from City Hall and just north of Wall Street. The diner will offer a full bar with Prosecco on tap and a $300 brunch for two that includes a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne. The interior will be upmarket as well, with copper-stamped ceilings, wood paneling and leather booths.

Denny’s, which started as a California coffee shop in 1953, has been trying to update its image and is working with franchises across the U.S. to modernize restaurants that, in many cases, are more than two decades old, said Malcolm Knapp, a restaurant-industry consultant in New York.

“It’s a great PR stunt -- you wouldn’t do it almost anywhere else,” Knapp said, when asked about the $300 Grand Cru Slam champagne brunch, which also comes with a high-five from the bartender. “It’s a little bit more of an affluent audience than their regular audience.”

Denny’s generated headlines in 2012 when it opened a restaurant in Las Vegas designed by renowned architect James Wines that also featured a wedding chapel. The Spartanburg, South Carolina-based company is drawing on that playbook with its Manhattan debut, meant to showcase the “modern, hip” Denny’s, particularly to investors and analysts based in New York, Knapp said.

Full Bar

In creating the Manhattan diner, Denny’s went to great pains to appeal to the customers of lower Manhattan, said Frances Allen, the company’s chief brand officer. That meant offering a full bar, a feature present in only a handful of Denny’s approximately 1,600 locations around the U.S.

“The bar is a reflection of what we believe the people of Manhattan want,” Allen said in a phone interview yesterday. “It’s a very weekend brunch place, and it’s also a place where at brunch you expect a cocktail.”

Denny’s started a new marketing campaign in 2011 that rebranded the company as “America’s Diner” and has been working with franchisees to refresh restaurants. The chain is on track to boost same-store sales this year the most since 2005, Chief Executive Officer John Miller said on a July earnings call, attributing the better performance mostly to its remodeling program.

Manhattan Owner

Denny’s had 1,599 restaurants in the U.S. at the end of 2013, including 163 owned by the parent company. The remainder of the locations are franchised. Only about 200 of the restaurants serve alcohol, Allen said.

The Manhattan location is owned by Rahul Marwah, whose family is in the hotel and restaurant business and operates 22 Denny’s locations in Texas and California. Marwah, 34, grew up in Los Angeles and said he spent more than two years studying the New York market to prepare to open the diner.

The cocktail menu and the $300 brunch were developed with Mike Capoferri, a friend who ran the bar at Soho House in West Hollywood, California, he said.

“We wanted a craft cocktail program that was at the same time still very approachable and affordable so that we could bring that craft cocktail culture to the masses,” Marwah said. “We didn’t want to lose sight of the fact we’re still a Denny’s.”

Does he think customers will order the $300 champagne brunch?

“Even if no one orders it,” he said, “it’s worth the chuckle you might get when you look at the menu.”

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