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|Born||October 30, 1915
|Died||November 26, 2002 (age 87)
Las Vegas, Nevada
|Cause of death||Cardiac arrest|
|Residence||San Marino, California
Las Vegas, Nevada
|Education||Alhambra High School, Pasadena City College|
|Known for||Founder of Winchell's Donuts|
Verne Hedges Winchell (October 30, 1915 – November 26, 2002) was the founder of Winchell's Donuts and also served as a chairman, president, and chief executive officer of the Denny's restaurant chain.
Winchell was born on October 30, 1915, in Bloomington, Illinois. At the age of nine, Winchell and his family moved to California. Winchell graduated from Alhambra High School and later took business courses at Pasadena City College, where he decided on a business career.
On October 8, 1948 he opened his first donut shop in Temple City, California and earned the nickname "The Donut King", while making a fortune with a chain of Winchell's-branded donut shops in the western United States during the 1940s and 1950s. Winchell's Donuts merged with Denny's Incorporated in 1967. In 1970, Winchell became chairman of Denny's. Winchell served as chairman of the board, president, and chief executive officer of Denny's until 1980. He sold his interest in Denny's for $600 million in 1984. Winchell was also a successful horse breeder and owner.
Before starting his lucrative doughnut franchise, he tried selling jukeboxes and used cars in the 1950s. A friend suggested opening a doughnut store because there was a high profit margin. Winchell took a $27,000 stake and turned a piece of commercial property he owned into his first store.
The shops were highly successful and it was not too long before Winchell expanded his operation throughout California. In 1976, according to BusinessWeek magazine, sales at Winchell's nationwide were $99 million, although the chain was by then a distant second to Dunkin' Donuts.
Winchell died of a cardiac arrest in Las Vegas, Nevada, on November 26, 2002, at the age of 87, at Summerlin Hospital. Family members said he collapsed after exercising on the treadmill at his home. Winchell had been a resident of Las Vegas for 30 years.
Ron Winchell, Verne Winchell's son, began a chain of restaurants in the Las Vegas area named "Winchell's Pub and Grill". The first restaurant opened in south Las Vegas in 2000. Ron Winchell later expanded the chain by opening two more restaurants in 2003, one in south Las Vegas, and one in North Las Vegas. On July 18, 2008, Ron Winchell opened another restaurant in North Las Vegas, and planned to open two more restaurants within a few months.
A fan of thoroughbred horse racing, Verne Winchell bred more than sixty stakes winners and raced more than forty. Among those horses, Olympio won the 1991 American Derby. He bred and raced two Champions: Mira Femme, the 1966 American Co-Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, and Tight Spot, voted the 1991 American Champion Male Turf Horse. Winchell also had three starters in the Kentucky Derby: Classic Go Go, who finished fourth in 1981; Sea Cadet, who finished eighth in 1991; and Valiant Nature, who finished 13th in 1994. Sea Cadet, known as the "tailess wonder", won important Grade 1 races such as 1992's and Gulfstream Park and Donn Handicaps.
Donut King, the first horse Winchell bought at auction, was among the favorites for the 1954 Kentucky Derby but was injured the week of the race and did not run. Ronnie's Baby, which was co-bred with Ronald Reagan and purchased in 1958 from Desi Arnaz, did not race to a high level.
Following his death, wife Joan and son Ron Winchell continue to race under Winchell Thoroughbreds. Verne's great granddaughter Casey Winchell is the owner of Minx Society, Los Angeles PR and Events company.