My aversion to Denny’s has a lot more to do with fate and timing than anything else.
In 2005, my entire family decided to take a road trip up to Canada.
The drive from Los Angeles to Victoria totaled four or five days, as we had planned to stop in various locations along the way to sightsee.
As a family, our eating habits are a little different than most. We generally like to enjoy a heavier or larger lunch as our main meal of the day and eat something far lighter in the evening.
Our first day on the road, we spent a good six hours in the car before my mother announced it was time for our first meal. We pulled into the rest stop and studied the choices, and decided upon the Denny’s.
It was around one or two in the afternoon and my parents decided that each of us should get a breakfast combo to get a little more bang for our buck — the leftovers would hold up well in the car and could be eaten at night and the next morning!
We don’t usually eat out at American restaurants, so this was a thrill. I ordered a Grand Slam and savored every bite. That night, the leftover sausage and pancakes truly seemed like a meal fit for a king.
The next day, we found ourselves again at a Denny’s. It appeared that my parents wanted to repeat the plan of ordering a big breakfast combo per person so we could feast on the leftovers again.
“Get pancakes too, mei mei,” my mom said after I told her I wanted an omelette. They didn’t taste as great later that night.
Another day, another rest stop … another Denny’s. It was around 10 in the morning.
“Mom, can I get a burger instead?” I asked, vying for a little variety.
“Don’t be silly. No one eats a burger for breakfast. Get some pancakes instead,” my mother said with a laugh.
At one point during this meal, my tongue lost all sensitivity. I had eaten Denny’s pancakes and breakfast food for nearly seven straight meals, and could no longer tell the difference between their pancakes and the taste of lightly sweetened cardboard.
How quickly something pleasant can turn into the bane of your existence! I grew to hate the red and yellow sign.
I shot imaginary darts at every staff member who waited on us and flinched at the very thought of pancakes. I seethed at the names of the items on the menu, once cutely clever, now try-hard and idiotic. Moons Over My Hammy? What the fuck?
The doors to a once homey American haven soon resembled the gates to my own personal hell.
When we arrived late at night at our hotel in Seattle, we asked the receptionist about dining choices around the area.
“There’s a 24 hour Denny’s within walking distance,” the young man said with an innocent smile, unaware of the doom he had laid out at my feet. I nearly jumped over the desk to strangle him, but I was already being dragged away by my mother, who had visions of pancakes dancing in front of her eyes.
Thankfully, my mother is also a firm believer in immersing yourself into the culture when you’re in another country, so when we finally arrived in Canada, our meals became varied in style.
It was a week of poutine, gamey meats, delicious cheeses and some really amazing seafood. My tastebuds gradually stopped numbing themselves and enjoyed food again.
On our return trip home my heart was seized with fear. Frankly, I don’t remember whether or not we had visited any more Denny’s on our way home — all signs point to memory suppression.
But I do remember very clearly one moment. It was the final stretch and we were at yet another rest stop and making our way to the IHOP. I was tired, cranky, hungry and utterly defeated at this point.
The waitress came to take our order, and when she got to me, I nearly broke down.
“I don’t know what I want. I just don’t want any more pancakes,” I said feebly, quickly swiping away the tears that had sprang to my eyes.
The kindly waitress put a sympathetic hand on my shoulder, and began to guide me through the menu.
“Darlin’, we’re called the International House of Pancakes, but we got a whole lot more you’d enjoy!” she said, motioning to the pages.
Perhaps because I now had an angel on my side, my mother gave me free reign to pick what I wanted.
The strawberry vanilla stuffed French toast tasted better than anything I had ever imagined. IHOP did the impossible — I fell back in love with American breakfast food that very instant.
I’m sorry Denny’s — you’ve been trying hard to win me back with your amazing social media platforms and your special menus dedicated to “The Hobbit.” But for me, IHOP will forever be a light that shone when all others went out.
Shannon Ho is a fourth-year English major. She can be reached at email@example.com