This is not a story about Hawaii. This is not a story about Pro Wrestlers. This is a story about The Greatest Cheesecake In The World.
The greatest cheesecake in the world.
My great grandmother, we called her Noni and my great aunt, who we called Auntie Dorothy took me to Hawaii when I was a kid. It was one of the first big trips I’d ever taken. Suitcases, airplanes, hotels, the whole nine yards. Decades later, I can’t remember exactly how old I was at the time but probably around 10.
I do remember that we stayed at the Sheraton Waikiki. I also have memories of buying a boogie board and paddling around near the beach, spending hours in in the hotel pool and taking the tour of Pearl Harbor. I also remember that there were a group of professional wrestlers staying at our hotel. I didn’t know their names as I was just on the cusp of becoming a fan of the sport but later I realized I’d seen Ric Flair jokingly throw a female fan into the pool. I also remember I rode up in the hotel elevator with, who I’d later realize was, Nikita Koloff. I had ooked up to him and sheepishly asked, “Are you a professional wrestler?” He scowled down and said, “No kid, I’m a ballet dancer.”
But this story is not about pro wrestlers, Perl Harbor or even Hawaii. This story is about the greatest cheesecake in the world. The cheesecake that all other cheesecakes would be judged.
In 1953, Harold Butler and Richard Jezak opened Danny’s Donuts in Lakewood, California. 3 years later, when Richard left the now 6 store chain, Howard decided to change the focus of the store from donuts to coffee. And with store number 8 he changed the operation of the store to 24 hours and and he changed the name to Danny’s Coffee Shop.
The name was confusing to some patrons as there was a already a popular LA Coffee Shop chain called Coffee Dan’s so Harold changed the name again, He simply changed the ‘a’ in Danny into an ‘e’ to make Denny’s Coffee Shop. A few years later he simplified the name even further calling his chain Denny’s.
He began franchising Denny’s and the chain expanded to over 800 locations.
At the height of his career, Harold tried to buy Ceaser’s Palace in Paradise, Nevada but the Securities and Exchange commission accused him of offering the shareholders a secret deal and the deal collapsed. Denny’s stock plummeted and he sold his shares, once worth $80 million, for $3 million and resigned from the board. He lived out the rest of his days in La Paz, Mexico with his wife Jean a former Denny’s waitress and franchisee.
Denny’s lived on, of course and that’s where I found myself one night in Hawaii with Noni and Auntie Dorothy. The Denny’s in Waikiki in the shadow of our hotel. I’d just finished a burger and some fries and was now faced with the dessert menu. What would I have? Ice cream? My favorite as a kid, Orange Sherbet? Chocolate cake? No, we were on vacation. THe fanciest vacation I’d ever taken! This meal called for something fancy. I perused the menu for the fanciest dessert. Cheesecake. I’ll have the cheesecake.
I’d never had cheese cake before but there, in Hawaii seemed like the best place to start. What would it taste like? Cheese? Cake? I didn’t know but I was eager to find out.
Maybe it was because I was exhausted from swimming all day. Or being out in the sun for hours. But that cheesecake, it was the best damn thing I’d ever put in my mouth. Seriously, it was like seeing the face of god. I’d never eaten anything that delicious. For the rest of our stay in Hawaii, I begged to go back to the Denny’s for more cheesecake but we had other places to eat. Luaus to see. Hula dances to watch.
After returning home, I was pleased to find out that most restaurants had cheesecake. I became a 10 year old cheesecake connoisseur. Every time it was on the menu, I ordered it. In fact, it’s the first thing I would look for on the menu when we went out. I developed a rating system. How good was this cheesecake compared to the greatest cheesecake in the world? The cheesecake at the Denny’s near the hotel in Waikiki.