Bill Church, executive director of Food Service and Retail Development for MZD Advertising, and Allan Zukerman, chairman/CEO of MZD, are revitalizing an Indianapolis restaurant chain that brings back a lot of warm memories for Hoosiers: Mr. Dan’s Hamburgers.
The restaurant chain that specializes in The Big Dan, a made-to-order burger, and Nathan’s hot dogs, as well as other food items, is going to be franchised nationally through Mr. Dan’s Franchising LLC.
Church, president of Mr. Dan’s Franchising LLC, says it is an exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs.
“A lot of people have special memories of Mr. Dan’s,” Church says. “It’s a familiar name to many people who grew up in Indianapolis.”
The first Mr. Dan’s was opened in 1950 at the corner of 14th and Illinois Streets by Richard Hogshire, the founder of Mr. Dan’s, who is still active in the business. The original name, Gay Dan’s, came from the Gay 90s era and adopted the circus wagon look for a Gay 90s hot dog stand. The name was changed in the 1970s to Mr. Dan’s.
One popular location was right next to the old Bush Stadium on W. 16th Street in Indianapolis, which was home to the Indianapolis Indians for years.
The original menu was hot dogs, baked beans, and a fresh cup of coffee. After the first few years of business, it became obvious that the hamburger was necessary to attract more business. Over the years, the burger process has been standardized and remains as a fresh grilled burger. Mr. Dan’s now sells The Big Dan Hamburger 10 to 1 over hot dogs.
Over the past 50 years, a total of 16 Mr. Dan’s have opened and closed. Most locations have ceased operations due to lease terminations, change in markets, and a change in traffic patterns and road access.
Two Mr. Dan’s locations are in operation today: one at 4390 N. Keystone Avenue, just north of Fall Creek Parkway, and another at 34th and Massachusetts.
“The menu and operations reflect years of success in defining the Mr. Dan’s niche,” Church says. “The entire business has sought its own level of customer needs.”
Mr. Dan’s menu consists of hamburgers, hot dogs, tenderloins, chili, and french fries. A limited breakfast menu is available late night and early mornings.
“The Big Dan hamburger is the mainstay of the business,” Church says. “The burger is widely known in the community as the best. They are always cooked to order and served hot.”
The business is open 24 hours a day, six days a week, and is closed on Sundays.
“Because Mr. Dan’s is located in urban areas, it does not compete with the big boys of fast food,” Church says. “Mr. Dan’s stays within its niche and serves hamburgers cooked in sight and to order. The Coney sauce and seasoning salt are proprietary items manufactured under the Mr. Dan’s label.”
Charlie and Barney’s Award Winning Chili and Nathan’s Famous All Beef Franks are also served at Mr. Dan’s.
Zukerman says that Mr. Dan’s Restaurants Franchisee LLC is separate from MZD Advertising.
“We have been starting to host Mr. Dan’s Franchise seminars to inform people who may be interested in opening their own franchises,” Zukerman says. “The restaurants will have a positive impact on their communities and offer employment opportunities. We plan to begin franchising in the Midwest, starting first in Indianapolis, and then Louisville, Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland, and Detroit.”
Church says the first franchise seminar was successful.
“We shared a lot of franchise opportunity information with influential members of the community about the concept and a lot of people are excited about it,” Church says. “What really got our attention was the return-on-investment on this concept and the low cost of entry.”
Hogshire said it’s a great opportunity for entrepreneurs.
“It’s a tried and true concept that we have had over the past 50 years,” Hogshire says. “It has done well over the past five decades. It is simple and can be duplicated very easily.”