In the space of just a week, Denny’s Mobile Relief Diner went from concept to roving pancake machine.
From Sept. 14 to Sept. 19, the kitchen on wheels delivered more than 7,000 free meals in the Houston area to hungry families displaced from their homes, as well as to police, fire and repair crews working around the clock to get the Texas city of more than 2.2 million people back on its feet.
Staffed by Denny’s employees, the mobile diner has since moved to Florida, where Hurricane Irma caused extensive damage to homes and infrastructure just a week after Harvey.
The rolling restaurant’s simple menu of pancakes, bacon, coffee and not much else was a deliberate -- if not efficient -- decision.
“The Mobile Relief Diner is pretty flexible in terms of what we could possibly prepare in the kitchen of the truck, but when we were thinking about what we wanted to serve, we felt like pancakes were the perfect food for this purpose,” John Dillon, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Denny’s, told NRN. “While operationally, it’s not necessarily the easiest food to prepare in massive quantities, there is just something about a freshly cooked, hot stack of pancakes that gives people a small sense of comfort.”
A small group of support vehicles, including a refrigerated truck, accompanies the mobile diner. The Denny’s employees who staff the kitchen are paid for their time, but they are also aided by volunteers.
Local franchisees in affected areas have provided what Dillon calls “tremendous support” and are helping to identify the communities that are most in need of a visit from the roving Denny’s kitchen.
Currently in Key West, Fla., the roving diner is headed for Immokalee, Fla., next.
“These communities throughout Texas and South Florida have started the road to recovery, but they still have a long way to go. We would encourage anyone who has the ability to look into the various efforts being organized to help those in need and contribute in any way possible,” said Dillon.
The current edition of the Mobile Relief Diner was meant to be a quick, temporary solution that will likely be retired after serving the communities in Texas and Florida, the company said.
However, Denny’s is already investigating strategies to address similar needs when they arise again.
The Spartanburg, S.C.-based family dining chain currently has about 1,725 restaurants globally, the majority of which are in the U.S.