by Jim Boyle
The Otsego Denny’s will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a fresh atmosphere and a three-day celebration.
There will be specials, prizes and great food starting at 8 a.m. Thursday, May 11, through Saturday, May 13.
Owners Todd and Laurie Rick, of Ramsey, have a lot to celebrate, and they decided to do it up right with a complete remodel of the restaurant’s dining area.
The diner has been renovated for an entirely new look, one geared at getting big groups in and out in a timely manner at busy times while still offering the same family-friendly atmosphere they have prided themselves on.
The business opened in November 2007, which turned out to be about the worst time to start a restaurant since the Great Depression. Target broke ground that year in Otsego but the economy began to falter. Across the Mississippi River in Sherburne County there were nearly 600 foreclosures that year before the Otsego eatery opened. And while Highway 101 was getting its highway status upgraded to freeway status, that also gave businesses like Denny’s fits.
“The only way in on opening day was Parrish Avenue,” Todd Rick said with a laugh. Back then it was more a of a headache. The Ricks persevered, though.
There wasn’t a milestone that Todd and Laurie point to that told them they had made it, but the challenges and adversity they overcame along the way certainly gave them a pretty good indication they were on the right track.
“I always knew in my heart we would make it because my husband is such a hard worker,” Laurie Rick said. “If there was a will, there was a way.”
When Highway 101 was done and traffic flowed freely in and out of the Denny’s parking lot, Todd Rick took a big sigh of relief.
“Every day was an adventure,” he said.
That was in their fourth year of operation. Most restaurant businesses don’t make it past the first five years. Some still fail after six years of operation.
The Otsego building the Ricks bought to open a Denny’s franchise had two failed attempts at making a restaurant model work in that spot. One was an Ember’s, and the other was the Otsego Cafe.
It took awhile to get pass the stigma these failures create, Laurie Rick said.
As things began to clip along, the Ricks made a conscious choice to remain hands-on, even after adding Aaron Hayes — first as a cook and eventually as general manager.
Hayes had management experience and aspirations of climbing the ladder. He has become part of the Ricks’ extended family and even has his own teenage son and daughter working there.
“He runs (the restaurant) the same way he would if it was his own business,” Todd Rick said.
One employee celebrated 35 years with Denny’s this past month.
“We have been blessed with some really good people,” Todd Rick said.
Hayes said it’s all about customer service and not being just a business.
“It’s like a big family,” Hayes said.
Todd and Laurie couldn’t agree more.
While their operation is part of corporation, the Ricks still run it like a locally owned family business.
“We try to know as many of a guests by name as possible,” Todd Rick said. “We get to know their stories and they get to know our stories.”
Todd, Laurie or the general manager is always there. Often all three are there.
The couple now has more than 80 years in the restaurant industry between them, including many as managers of other Denny’s franchises for other people as well as at fine dining establishments.
Some of the customers at the diner are travelers from places as far away as Canada and families from all over attending sporting events with the youth athletic and activity teams and clubs. But most are from the local community.
Laurie Rick said it has been fun to watch the little kids grow up and become teens.
“It has been great getting to know all the good people of this community,” she said.