Houston is a big city; this is an observation that makes an impact on nearly any visitor who spends time here. Not only is Houston tangentially long, East to West and North to South, but each sector of our city is also composed of varying densities. We travel so much in this city that it’s easy to become blind to anything but drastic changes if you’re not looking for them. Today’s story is something I saw firsthand but didn’t click with me until I was doing some research recently. The tale of a rogue Denny’s franchisee in Houston. No, not the Mission Bend Denny’s that hosted a Metal Concert shortly after going out of business (very NSFW Language but very funny), but rather a nearby competitor at 12405 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77077. So how exactly did this Denny’s go rogue? Well, let’s start off with some history before we get to the good stuff. This portion of Westheimer between Dairy Ashford and what was then known as Old Westheimer (now West Houston Center Blvd) was relatively sparse even into the early 2000s. There were two shopping centers on both ends. Dairy Ashford had a competing Kroger and Randalls across from each other. Old Weshteimer had a CompUSA diagonally across from a movie theater. Other than a few adjoining businesses, the center of this former farmland went essentially untouched until Denny’s landed here in 1997. This diner’s arrival would shortly be followed by Krispy Kreme and Fazoli’s both adjacent to the new restaurant. Denny’s wasn’t the only sit-down restaurant in the area, but it was likely the most recognizable one in a rapidly changing area. Sometime between 2011 and 2015, the store received a major remodel by its franchisee.
The remodel was not just meant to update the Denny’s, but to help kick up its elegance as well. At this point, competition around had grown quite a bit, and this Denny’s was looking a bit dated. The area had also become increasingly diverse, so this upselling may have been intended to also draw in new customer bases by passing off Denny’s as higher-end than it actually was. Unfortunately, this remodel was only skin deep, as summed up perfectly by this 2015 review. Other customers go into further detail about this displeasure with this particular Denny’s, but it all revolves around either bad service, bad food, or a combination of the both. It seems like things were going South with Denny’s, because the franchisee, who also owned the land and building on which Denny’s sat, began announcing plans to install a bar and change the restaurant’s name.
Well, if it isn’t apparent by now, let this Yelp review color your view of what exactly happened. Denny’s or Steve, the owner, decided to end the franchise relationship, and owning the building, the franchisee kept on going, essentially making this a Broken Chain. However, the chain wouldn’t last nearly long enough or do much significant enough to make it onto my friend Zap’s blog. Why wouldn’t Steve’s last? Well, the same problems that had been plaguing it for the last few years seemed to be even more rampant after ending its affiliation with Denny’s. The complaints and compliments seemed pretty equal in the beginning, with many appreciating the expanded menu and newer Latin American breakfast options. However, it seems that only after a few months, Steve’s was running into some pretty bad issues.
In late 2017, after only a few months of operation, Steve’s Kitchen would be placed under Denny’s corporate control and immediately reverted back into a Denny’s. While it’s unclear exactly how this transpired, the former franchisee does still appear to own the property and may be leasing it to Denny’s. When Denny’s took control of the space, they gutted most of the Steve’s upgrades, keeping the same layout but removing things like the new bar. The exterior would receive some minor updates but keep the relatively classy-looking stone. Denny’s corporate would only hold onto the location for about a year before passing it onto a franchisee in 2019, who has not done much with it. Some vestiges of Steve’s still exist throughout the facility, and the reviews have marginally improved. However, at heart, this odd location with its palm trees and giant led sign still stands out as a somewhat unusual Denny’s with a very odd history.