Alex Schoenbaum (August 8, 1915 – December 6, 1996) was an American collegiate football player and businessman in the hospitality industry, eventually operating a chain of restaurants and later, motels. He is best remembered for developing the Shoney's restaurant chain in the southeastern United States, most of which were originally franchised Big Boy locations.[4]

Childhood and college football career

Schoenbaum grew up in West Virginia where as a boy he worked in his father's bowling establishments in Charleston and Huntington.

He played tackle at Ohio State University from 1936-1938. He received an honorable mention as AP All-Western Conference in 1936 and as Grantland Rice All-America honorable mention and AP All-Western Conference second team in 1937 and 1938.[5] He was a 7th round selection (55th overall pick) of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1939 NFL Draft.

Hospitality industry

Following his sporting career, Schoenbaum went on to found the Shoney's restaurant chain, a regional organization which is one of the largest businesses to have originated in West Virginia and was at one time one of the largest family owned restaurant chains in the United States. In 1947 Schoenbaum opened his first drive-in restaurant, Parkette, in Charleston. In 1952, Schoenbaum obtained the regional marketing rights to the Big Boy trademark, two years later Parkette being renamed Shoney's. Besides being an operator, Schoenbaum also aggressively subfranchised to others, many as Shoney's and some in the 1950s using their own name.[6] In 1971, Schoenbaum and one such subfranchisee, Nashville operator Raymond L. Danner merged their companies to form Shoney's Big Boy Enterprises, Inc. When Shoney's original franchise agreement with Big Boy expired in 1976, Big Boy Enterprises was dropped from the name.[7] In the 1980s Shoney's opened two non Big Boy restaurants (called Shoney's Towne and Country) outside of its assigned Big Boy territory, leading another Big Boy franchisee to sue for trademark infringement. In 1984, Shoney's–now the largest regional franchisee–left the Big Boy system removing over a third of the American units.[8] Shoney's prevailed in the trademark suit, the final appeal adjudicated after separation from Big Boy.

Under Schoenbaum, the Shoney's organization also developed and operated the Captain D's fast food seafood chain, Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken fast-food chain, now part of Mrs. Winner's and three casual dining chains, The Sailmaker, Pargo's and the Fifth Quarter Steakhouses. In 1976, the company started a lodging chain, with properties branded as "Shoney's Inn" motels. By the 1990s, the company operated over 1,000 restaurants.


Alex Schoenbaum died on December 6, 1996, almost 50 years after he began what became his hospitality empire. He was survived by wife Betty, (who became active in civic matters and philanthropy in West Virginia, and her winter hometown of Sarasota, Florida) and their two daughters and two sons together.

In Charleston, West Virginia, where the business began, the Schoenbaum Family Enrichment Center and the Schoenbaum Soccer Stadium were family contributions to the community. In addition, at the Max M. Fisher College of Business in Columbus, the undergraduate business program is housed in Schoenbaum Hall named in his memory.[9][10]


  1. ^ "Shoney's Restaurant Will Open Tomorrow". Petersburg Progress Index. January 20, 1966. p. 16. Retrieved October 1, 2016 – via open access publication – free to read
  2. ^ Baker, Bob (May 8, 1960). "$750,000 to be spent on bowling building". Sunday Gazette Mail. Charleston, WV. pp. 1A, 6A. Retrieved November 30, 2016 – via open access publication – free to read
  3. ^ "Most of Schoenbaum Estate Goes to Sons". Charleston Gazette. August 5, 1951. p. 5. Retrieved October 1, 2016 – via open access publication – free to read
  4. ^ "Alex Schoenbaum, 81, Founder Of Shoney's Restaurant Chain". The New York Times. December 15, 1996. Retrieved 9 September 2009. 
  5. ^ "Schoenbaum, Alex". Schoenbaum, Alex. Retrieved 3 January 2017. 
  6. ^ Schaffer, Frank (April 17, 1962). "Charleston Drive-In Zooms To Huge 10-State Business". Charleston Daily Mail. pp. 12, 17. Retrieved February 26, 2013 – via open access publication – free to read In this list, the Rochester franchise is Becker's, the Wheeling franchise is Elby's, the Philadelphia franchise is Tune's and the Chattanooga franchise is Shap's.
  7. ^ "Shoney's Changes Corporate Name". Charleston Daily Mail. October 30, 1976. p. 13. Retrieved October 2, 2016 – via open access publication – free to read
  8. ^ Zuckerman, David (May 7, 1984). "Shoney's secedes from Big Boy system". Nation's Restaurant News. Penton Media. Archived from the original on July 8, 2012. Retrieved April 15, 2014.  CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  9. ^ Sonis, Larry (December 8, 2015). "Alex Schoenbaum". e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. West Virginia Humanities Council. Retrieved October 1, 2016. 
  10. ^ Moore, Kara (March 28, 2012). "All-American Tradition". WV Living Magazine. Morgantown, WV: New South Media. Retrieved October 4, 2016.