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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]

Alexander Z. Schoenbaum
Alex Schoenbaum framed by a Big Boy statue
Alex Schoenbaum framed by a Big Boy statue
Born(1915-08-08)August 8, 1915
DiedDecember 6, 1996(1996-12-06) (aged 81)
MonumentsSchoenbaum Hall (Ohio State),
Schoenbaum Library (University of Charleston),
Schoenbaum Family Enrichment Center (Charleston, WV)
ResidenceCharleston, West Virginia; Sarasota, Florida
Alma materOhio State University
OccupationRestaurateur, entrepreneur, philanthropist
Known forShoney's Restaurants
Betty Schoenbaum
(m. 1940; died 2018)
  • Emil B. Schoenbaum[2] (father)
  • Goldie R. Schoenbaum[3] (mother)


Childhood and college football careerEdit

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 industryEdit

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, Nashville–based Shoney's operator Raymond L. Danner acquired Shoenbaum's company to form Shoney's Big Boy Enterprises, Inc., a publicly held company. With Danner as president and CEO, Schoenbaum became chairman of the board of directors. When Shoney's original franchise agreement with Big Boy expired in 1976, Big Boy Enterprises was dropped from the name.[7] In 1982, Shoney's opened two non–Big Boy restaurants (called Shoney's Towne and Country) in Tallahassee, Florida, Big Boy territory assigned to Frisch's Restaurants, causing Frisch's to sue for unfair competition. 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 Frisch's lawsuit, the final appeal adjudicated after separation from Big Boy.

With Schoenbaum as chairman, 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. Betty died on July 31, 2018, at the age of 100.[9]

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.[10][11]

In 2018 the Alex Scheonbaum scholarship and the Alex Schoenbaum Jewish Scholarship Fund was established through the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and Alex's daughter Emily to bolster African American Jewish relations in New Orleans.[12]


  1. ^ "Shoney's Restaurant Will Open Tomorrow". Petersburg Progress Index. January 20, 1966. p. 16. Retrieved October 1, 2016 – via 
  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 
  3. ^ "Most of Schoenbaum Estate Goes to Sons". Charleston Gazette. August 5, 1951. p. 5. Retrieved October 1, 2016 – via 
  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  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 
  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.
  9. ^ Guynup, Gayle. "Sarasota philanthropist Betty Schoenbaum dies". Sarasota Herald. Retrieved 2018-08-01.
  10. ^ Sonis, Larry (December 8, 2015). "Alex Schoenbaum". e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. West Virginia Humanities Council. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  11. ^ Moore, Kara (March 28, 2012). "All-American Tradition". WV Living Magazine. Morgantown, WV: New South Media. Archived from the original on 2015-09-12. Retrieved October 4, 2016.
  12. ^

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