Chances are, you have a Denny's story in your memory bank. Maybe it was the go-to late-night hang when you would spend hours nursing coffee refills and a plate of fries. Or you've got a tradition of getting a free birthday Grand Slam every year. Perhaps Denny's is a cherished road-trip spot. You could even have done a little dine-and-dash in your misguided youth at your local Denny's.
The enduring diner chain, known for dishes like "Moons Over My Hammy" and (often) 24-hour locations, has its Canadian headquarters in Vancouver. The franchisor is the Northland Group, which owns the Sandman and Sutton Place hotel chains; resorts like Grouse Mountain and Revelstoke; and restaurants like Moxies, Chop Steakhouse, and the award-winning Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar.
Denny's Canadian HQ is on West Broadway in Vancouver, and on the ground floor there's a restaurant location, which for many reasons is not like any other Denny's in the country - now more than ever.
In addition to having more of an upscale lounge-style restaurant decor (there's a fireplace and armchairs in the ladies' room), the Denny's at 1759 W Broadway has become the chain's "Test Kitchen," where they are trying out dishes to move onto the Denny's menu nation-wide.
What to expect at the Denny's Test Kitchen in Vancouver
Diners will find a paper menu at their tables with a mix of classic items (don't worry, your Grand Slam and mozzarella sticks are there) and test dishes, the latter of which are marked "TK."
The menu changes often, as management tracks customer feedback and makes small tweaks to the dishes or they try out new dishes altogether. Right now, among the many test kitchen menu items are a veggie and egg white breakfast skillet, a turkey dinner platter, fettuccine with marinara sauce, and several burgers and sandwiches.
Feedback is strongly encouraged. Not only is there a barrage of signs and posters encouraging you to be "the critic," your table is equipped with comment and rating cards, which you can fill out by hand and turn in, or you can scan a QR code and do it digitally.
For a legacy restaurant like Denny's, balancing pleasing guests who expect long-time favourite dishes and offering diners in search of something new to try appealing options is an ongoing concern for the chain's top management.
Some of the priorities for new additions include dishes that reflect modern tastes as well as incorporating healthier options onto the menu, explains Northland Restaurant Group President Alan Howie. He and Alexandra Shaw, Denny's Director, Marketing & Brand, were on hand at a recent event held at the restaurant to explain how the test kitchen works.
If a dish gets positive feedback at the Vancouver Test Kitchen, it will then move onto the menu at seven more Denny's locations scattered across Canada, representing markets that vary in scale and style. The goal, says Shaw, is to take Denny's massive multi-page menu into a more condensed version that maintains variety and that needed balance between the classics and the modern.
So will the Cheddar Chipotle Chicken Burger or the Philly Cheesesteak Melt make their way onto the national Denny's menu? Or do they need some ingredient or presentation adjustments? For now, the only place you'll find them is at the Denny's Test Kitchen in Vancouver, and if you don't like them the way they are - or if you really do - it's your chance to let them know.