William Palmer, the founder of Applebee’s and a major franchisee, died on Tuesday after succumbing to pancreatic cancer, parent company Dine Brands Global said Thursday. He was 70.
Palmer founded the restaurant with his wife at the time, T.J., as T.J. Applebee’s Rx for Edibles & Elixir’s in Decatur, Ga., in 1980. He sold it to W.R. Grace and Company in 1983 and William Palmer became a franchisee in 1985, operating in the Atlanta area.
“This tragic loss affects everyone in the Applebee’s family in a profound way,” Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar president John Cywinski said in a statement. “Bill was loved by all who knew him for his entrepreneurial passion, intellect, creativity, generosity and his truly unique, one of a kind sense of humor. After selling the Applebee’s concept in the mid-1980’s, he became a franchisee and actively continued in a leadership advisory role up until now. Bill cared deeply about Applebee’s and all those who helped to build and nurture this brand over the past 40 years. People simply loved being around him, because he had a wonderful way of making everyone feel special.
“Bill will be deeply missed, as his legacy lives on through our franchise partners and team members across the country. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Candy and his son Shawn, as well as their entire extended family."
Palmer graduated from West Georgia College in Carrollton, Ga., in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and management. He soon joined Burger King Corporation and worked there through 1980 in various positions including district manager, regional franchise manager and director of management training, until he founded his own restaurant.
Palmer was operating 40 Applebee’s restaurants when his company was acquired by private equity firm Argonne Capital in 2011. Palmer became vice chairman of that company, Neighborhood Restaurant Partners, which continued to develop Applebee’s locations and currently operates around 120 units in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Texas.
Palmer continued in a leadership advisory role for the full Applebee’s system for the rest of his life.
Toward the end of his life, Palmer was an active supporter of Purple Pansies, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and funding for pancreatic cancer research and awareness.
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