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Delmar Johnson; Founder of Sizzler Restaurants

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Delmar (Del) Johnson, a onetime ice cream salesman who was inspired by a newspaper story that described a steak dinner for only $1.09 and formed what today are the 733 restaurants of Sizzler International Inc., has died.

A spokesman for the FitzHenry Funeral Home in Indio said Johnson was 78 when he died Sunday at his home in Indian Wells.

Death was attributed to complications of hypertension.

Jim Collins, chairman of the board of Sizzler International and a friend of Johnson for 40 years, said that Johnson had run across a 1957 story in the Wall Street Journal telling of the success of the Tad’s Steak House chain in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco that offered a steak, baked potato and salad for $1.09.

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Johnson, who had been selling ice cream to Collins at Collins’ hamburger stand at Sepulveda Boulevard and Centinela Avenue in Culver City since 1952, decided to establish his own steak restaurants with a similar menu and low price.

With his wife, Helen, sewing drapes and curtains and helping Johnson select a decor and menu, the first of the Sizzler operations opened in 1957 at Airport Village in Culver City.

Johnson was one of the first restaurant entrepreneurs to offer franchising, and when he approached Collins in 1967 to buy the operation, it had grown to 164 restaurants, 160 of them owned by franchisees.

“We (Collins and two partners) paid less than $1 million,” Collins said from his office near the site of his old hamburger stand on Monday. He added that the chain’s 273 company-owned and 460 franchise restaurants in the United States and Pacific Rim nations are valued today at about $400 million.

Besides his wife, Johnson is survived by a daughter, Charlotte, a granddaughter, a brother and a sister.

A funeral service is scheduled Wednesday at 3 p.m. at the FitzHenry Chapel.


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