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Former NFL players hope new Denny’s will defy location’s history

POSTED: November 25, 2013 10:10 p.m.

Leshan Tanner, right, watches Roberto Ruiz cook on the grill Monday afternoon inside the new Denny's location in Gainesville.

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Success has eluded several businesses at the Gainesville location — much like the shifty quarterbacks Donnell Thompson used to face in the NFL.

But the North Carolina native, who played 12 seasons with the Baltimore and, later, Indianapolis Colts, believes he has the right moves to tackle that problem.

“It’s not necessarily the building you’re in. It’s the brand that you represent,” said Thompson on Monday at the newly converted Denny’s restaurant at 1701 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville. “People come to us. (The chain) is 60 years old. We’re one of the oldest brands out there; we’re the brand that you can’t kill.”

The Denny’s, the first of 20 planned in the Atlanta area by Thompson’s company, RWDT Foods Inc. of Durham, N.C., was set to open this morning.

The location, a few blocks west of Pearl Nix Parkway, has been vacant for a couple of years and has been the site of several restaurants.

Thompson and his partner, Ron Wooten, also a former NFL player, took over the building that was on the property and have fixed it up inside and out.

The 24-hour restaurant, with 95 employees, features a full-service bar and a “heritage” look with “brighter colors and a warmer feel,” that will spread to “about 70 percent of our brand,” Thompson said.

Fixing up a vacant building isn’t new to Thompson and Wooten, whose friendship dates to their gridiron days at the University of North Carolina.

They have rebuilt a former Wendy’s restaurant and turned it into a profitable location.

“We do studies before we ever build a place — pay a ton of money for the studies — so we wouldn’t come (to the Gainesville location) if the study said we shouldn’t come here,” Thompson said.

Thompson and Wooten, who played seven seasons with the New England Patriots, decided about six months ago to expand from their North Carolina base.

“We looked at other areas we’d like to go to, and we looked at Atlanta,” Thompson said. “This is one of the first stores we’re going to be (opening) in the Atlanta market. We looked at Gainesville and thought that the numbers were really right for our brand.

“We think our price point is right in line with where we know our customer base is.”

The new restaurant also brought in much-needed jobs to the area. Next up is a store in Douglasville, Thompson said.

The Denny’s chain has 19 restaurants scattered throughout Georgia, according to the company’s website.

“We think we’ll be very competitive here in Gainesville,” Thompson said.


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