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Denny's CEO Kelli Valade and Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang celebrate where Nvidia began.

Denny’s CEO Kelli Valade and Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang celebrate where Nvidia began.

Image Credit: GamesBeat/Dean Takahashi

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Jensen Huang, CEO of one of the biggest tech companies in the world, celebrated Nvidia’s founding today at a Denny’s restaurant in San Jose, California.

The Denny’s restaurant at Berryessa Road in San Jose was where the chip design company got off the ground 30 years ago. Now Huang is one of the most recognized CEOs from Silicon Valley and the world of technology, as his company provides graphics chips for 3D games and AI processors to fuel the AI revolution.

I wrote the first story on Nvidia back in 1996, when the company was pitching its graphics chips as “Windows accelerators.” But it got started earlier in 1993 with just a dream, shared by Huang, Chris Malachowsky and Curtis Priem. Today, the company’s market value is over $1 trillion.

Huang said he thinks of Denny’s as an American institution.

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Denny’s trillion-dollar incubator

A plaque will mark the booth at Denny’s on Berryessa in San Jose where Nvidia began.

In honor of that anniversary, Denny’s CEO Kelli Valade came out to meet Huang at the restaurant where it all began. Huang had a Grand Slam breakfast and other treats before the event. Valade presented Huang with a plaque honoring him for building a trillion-dollar company and she also kicked off a new competition where anyone can submit a startup idea to Denny’s Trillion Dollar Incubator in hopes of getting a $25,000 prize and following in Huang’s footsteps.

The applications are open until November and the public will be able to vote on the ideas. Then the company will evaluate the top five ideas “Shark Tank” style and come up with one winner.

Denny’s has started a contest to find the next trillion-dollar startup.

“Great things can happen at a Denny’s booth over breakfast and coffee,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what it’s related to. But we’re excited about that, whether it’s fashion or art or another type of company.”

Huang noted that his first job in the U.S., after immigrating from Taiwan, was at a Denny’s, where as a busboy and a waiter he learned how to interact with people and serve food. His older brother taught that, as a waiter, he should never go to the “island” or leave the table empty-handed, in terms of carrying plates or menus.

“It teaches you humility, hard work, how to be empathetic to other people, trying to bring joy to somebody — all of those things are all good life skills,” Huang said.

Valade said she also started out working at a Denny’s when she was 16 years old.

“It’s life skills. It teaches you hospitality. It doesn’t go away, that hospitality gene,” Valade said. “We teach life skills and you can change people’s lives that way. That’s fantastic. We say we love to feed people, mind, body and soul.”

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Both of these CEOs started out working at Denny’s.

Garren Grieve, CEO of Seaside Dining Group, owns the Denny’s restaurant on Berryessa and it’s one of dozens that he has in his portfolio as a franchise owner. His team put a plaque over the booth as well to indicate the founding of Nvidia. The location was built in the 1960s, but Grieve didn’t know if other tech companies were born at the restaurant.

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“We’ve really enjoyed this location because it’s one of our top sales locations in our portfolio. It’s a great location and we’re very fortunate,” Grieve said.

The 70-year-old Denny’s chain has more than 1,600 restaurants. In an interview, Valade said that the Wall Street Journal ran an interview with Huang a few months ago where he mentioned the Denny’s restaurant. So the Denny’s team reached out about creating the plaque and ceremony for Huang.

I asked if Huang wrote his business plan on a Denny’s napkin. He said the company never had a business plan. It just had ideas for what it was going to do.

“Honestly, none of us knew how to write a business plan,” he said.

But they knew how to create a business with unique value and an invention that was very tough to create.

“That brought us tremendous joy to want to go do that,” he said. “We didn’t know how to project revenues. We had a hard time. Frankly, we have a hard time doing that today.”

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…. to be continued
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