Dawn Lafreeda’s life is the perfect example of a rags to riches story. She has gone from humble beginnings to working as a Denny’s waitress to owning 75 locations. So how did this millionaire businesswoman achieve this level of success?
As a child, Lafreeda grew up in a family that struggled to make ends meet. To make sure the family had what they needed, her mother worked in a Denny’s close to their home. After years of working as a waitress, she eventually became manager before getting a promotion and becoming a district manager. Despite the promotions, things were still financially strained for Lafreeda’s family.
At the age of just 13, Lafreeda made a conscious decision to make sure her life was different when she was an adult. She wanted to experience the financial stability her family had never had and live a comfortable life. In fact, her dreams were bigger than this and her ambitions including owning her own business and making lots of money.
When Dawn turned 16, she was desperate to own her own car but to do so she needed to make money. Just like her mother, she decided that the best way to do this would be to get a job at the local Denny’s in Orange County, California. She started out as a hostess and worked her way up to being a waitress. It wasn’t long before she had saved enough money to buy her own car. This made her realize that to get what she wanted from her life she would have to work hard.
Dawn Lafreeda then went on to college but this didn’t stop her working towards her dreams. She continued to work as many hours as she could at Denny’s, fitting her job in around her studies. She even took on a second job with Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) selling accounting software. Her job for this company had a big impact on her future as it was where she learned many important aspects of running a business, such as accounting, taxes, computers, and payroll.
She only completed one year at college before focusing her attentions on working and saving money. In 1984, Dawn was 23 and decided to take the plunge into owning her own business. She had saved up lots of money by this time. She used her savings and credit card debt to buy her own two restaurants. She chose a small mining town in Arizona called Globe as the destination for her businesses. In this town, just east of Phoenix, she bought a Hobo Joe’s and a Colony Kitchen. Denny’s had recently acquired the chain of restaurants of which the two restaurants LaFreeda bought belonged. Although many of the employees and customers did not take her seriously due to her age, Lafreeda did well with these restaurants.
Despite her age, the executives at Denny’s were astounded by her level of success and the amount of money she was making. They offered to sell her four restaurants in San Angelo, Texas, that were underperforming since the oil boom in West Texas collapsed. Although she had only been in business for 18 months at the time, she was excited by this new opportunity and ready for the challenge.
In terms of running a business, Lafreeda was still on a steep learning curve. Running businesses in Texas was a huge culture shock as it was so different from what she knew in Orange County. Her youth was on her side as it made her fearless. However, it was also her youth that led to her facing many difficulties. One of which was bank managers being reluctant to give her loans because of her age.
As she was struggling to run the businesses in this repressed area, Dawn would ring the corporate offices regularly to beg them to let her have a restaurant in the big city. Her perseverance paid off and she was finally given the opportunity to acquire a location in San Antonio in 1986 when she was still just 24 years old.
It was Lafreeda’s determination that allowed her success to continue. If one bank wouldn’t lend her money, she simply found another who would. Within a few years, she had a dozen locations and this soon expanded to 20, then 30, and then 40.
Now, Dawn Lafreeda has 76 Deny’s locations across the United States with restaurants in Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Oklahoma. This means she is one of the most successful franchise owners in the country. Her company is called Den-Tex, Inc. and it is estimated that it has an annual revenue of approximately $85 million. Dawn Lafreeda has now celebrated 30 years in the franchise business and is an inspirational woman to many budding entrepreneurs.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker