Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Alex Schoenbaum


7574s06_medium

Businessman Alex Schoenbaum (August 8, 1915-December 6, 1996) founded Shoney’s and made it into one of the nation’s largest family restaurant chains. Schoenbaum was born in Richmond, Virginia. He was an All-American tackle at Ohio State University, where he graduated from the Fisher College of Business in 1939 and where he met his wife, Betty. They married in 1940 and settled in Charleston, West Virginia, in 1943.

In 1947, Schoenbaum opened the Parkette Drive-In and Bowling Alley on Charleston’s west side. Four years later, he purchased Big Boy hamburger chain franchise rights for the southeastern states. The number of restaurants grew, and in 1953 they were named Shoney’s when Schoenbaum’s nickname was selected as the company name in an employee contest. In 1971, Schoenbaum and Ray Danner, a Shoney’s Big Boy franchise holder in middle Tennessee and the founder of Captain D’s restaurants, merged their companies to form Shoney’s Big Boy Enterprises, Inc. The original Shoney’s restaurant in Charleston closed December 12, 1975. The company suffered financial difficulties and was sold in 2002.

Schoenbaum’s philanthropy and that of his wife, Betty, is honored in the naming of Schoenbaum Hall at Ohio State, Schoenbaum Library at the University of Charleston, and the Schoenbaum Family Enrichment Center and Schoenbaum Soccer Stadium and Amphitheater in Charleston. Other Charleston projects include Haddad Riverfront Park’s stage, a new swimming pool for the YWCA and renovation of the city’s tennis courts. Alex Schoenbaum lived his later years in Charleston and Florida. Betty Schoenbaum died July 31, 2018, at the age of 100.

Written by Larry Sonis