“Never be afraid to ask for help or for what you want. You might just get surprised and you might just get it all … I did.”—Dawn Lafreeda
Dawn Lafreeda successfully opened her own restaurant at the age of 23 and went on to become one of the top franchisees in U.S. history. The entrepreneur now owns 70 of Denny’s restaurants in six states (Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Arkansas, and Oklahoma).
Windy City Times: A humble beginning often begets a daring passion for the unknown and a desire for success. How would you say you stood apart from other classmates your age when dreaming of your future place in the world?
Dawn Lafreeda: I was definitely far less fortunate than my other classmates, so I strived from a very young age to be successful and to make a better life for myself. I was forced to grow up quickly [and] was very mature for my age … incredibly driven and always had the entrepreneurial spirit. I started working at age 10 and was always looking for ways to make money so I could get out of my situation. I spent my entire childhood visualizing a better life and dreaming big.
WCT: When you were 16 years old you took a job at Denny’s as a hostess and, then, at 23, you bought your own restaurant (Hobo Joe’s and Colony Kitchen—an acquisition of the Denny’s brand). How did you know this was the right move for your burgeoning career at such an early age?
DL: I knew from a very young age [that] I would be self-employed. As a young girl, I recall sitting with my mother and [saying] to her, “One day I am going to own my own company and make a lot of money.” She said to me, “Of course you are.”
I always felt empowered and kept that dream. When the opportunity arose, I was a little scared and worried about failure, but my mom gave me the magic words that have forever changed my life: “What is the worst thing that can happen? You start over at 26?” That made all the sense in the world to me so I took the risk and I never looked back. I also never feared taking risks of any kind again, whether it be professionally or personally. To this day, whenever I am faced with a challenge I still ask myself, “What is the worst thing that can happen?”
Read more of my interview with Dawn Lafreeda on Windy City Times here: Here comes the Dawn: Woman makes franchise history.