Giving Thanks. At a Shoney's.
True story: I ate Thanksgiving Dinner all alone one year - at a Shoney's.
Home of the Big Boy burger, I can attest to the fact that Shoney's has a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. Apparently the even have an all-you-can-eat option now.
I grew up in Virginia Beach and my grandparents didn't live that far away in Norfolk. Just about every Thanksgiving meal we had was a big occasion. My mother and I hosted, which meant my grandparents, friends and other relatives came over for the feast.
One Thanksgiving Day dinner though was particularly memorable. Not because of the home cooking but rather the lack thereof.
The morning of the Thanksgiving of my junior year in high school started off normally. Baking, cooking, Macy's parade, getting ready for football ... that sort of thing.
Then my grandparents called and said they weren't feeling well. They wanted their meals delivered. I was to be the delivery guy.
Once the food was cooked and packed up for them I headed out to Norfolk.
When I got to the house though I could tell something was amiss. They weren't sick. They just didn't want to leave their house. And they wanted company so I stayed for a few hours.
Before I left for the 30-minute drive home, I called my mother. I asked her if she could make a plate of food for me.
To wit, she said, there was nothing left really. All gone. Except for a little turkey.
I was aghast. Zip. Zilch. Zero. No Thanksgiving dinner for me. Or so I thought.
My grandfather reminded me that I had another option - Shoney's. There was one not too far from their house in Norfolk.
The restaurant was actually a family favorite. We stopped there all the time on road trips to see my uncle in Chicago and other destinations.
And of course, I was a fan of the burger and their sundaes and hot fudge cake, which is a classic.
Never thought of them as a turkey and stuffing kind of place though.
But with a fresh $50 in my pocket and a peck on the cheek from my grandmother I set out to the neighborhood Shoney’s for my Thanksgiving meal.
When I got there, I was surprised to see so many cars in the parking lot – and so many people in the restaurant.
On the way over, I was actually thinking that I would be one of a handful of lonely souls who gathered for what should be a day of family and friends.
To my amazement, that wasn’t the case. The place had a rather festive atmosphere. There was Christmas music being piped in, the smell of pumpkin pie wafted throughout and even the servers seemed happy to be there.
Once I got to my two-person booth I ordered a soda, the Thanksgiving special and settled in with a book (I think it was “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, as I was on a Beat Generation kick back then).
Roughly 20 minutes after ordering my food, it came out hot and fresh. Rolls, butter, turkey, gravy … everything I was supposed to have at my mother’s house, but at Shoney’s.
I ate in silence, reading my book and having what was probably one of the tastiest meals I’ve ever had.
Being an only child, it didn’t bother me to eat my myself. I was used to it. Rather enjoyed it, to be honest.
Even still, on Thanksgiving, you want to be around people. Fortunately, I felt very much at home in that restaurant with others who found themselves eating at a Shoney’s. It may have been because of convenience. It may have been because of the food. Or it may have been because of loneliness.
Whatever the reason, no one was lonely that Thanksgiving Day as we all ate our pumpkin pies, downed our coffee and gave thanks for the blessings of being together for the common purpose of eating a meal.
Now as to why I am telling this story, the answer is simple: I have told a story about Thanksgiving, but I’ve also told you something about myself and – if you didn’t know them already – you now know Shoney’s. And you probably have a favorable impression of them, to boot.
That, my friends, is how we can use a story to communicate a company’s values, its mission or meaning and make a connection that may not have been there before.
So, if you don’t have plans already, maybe you can make reservations at Shoney’s. Or just drop in.
You'll have lots of friends there.