It was quite the scene outside the Westchester IHOP on Monday morning. With the LA Kings Ice Crew, Bailey the mascot, and balloons that adorned the entrance, fans owning winning raffle tickets lined up as early as 6:30 a.m., an hour and a half early, for their seats at the “Pancakes with Penner” breakfast hosted by Kings forward Dustin Penner.
Although 150 Kings fans filled the popular breakfast spot, this is one event where the back story may very well have been larger than the main event itself.
In early January, Penner sat down to have a pancake breakfast prepared for him by his wife when he experienced a sudden onslaught of back spasms, which forced him to miss a game.
Penner wasn’t exactly shy about sharing the story, as his recollection of the scene ended up in the hands of various media outlets, which brought the Winkler, Manitoba, native into the international spotlight…in quite an extraordinary fashion.
“It was a brush fire in Canada. I was getting text messages from people in British Columbia and I was like ‘Ugh!’” said Penner. “I read some of the things people were saying and I said ‘OK, I’m going to come up with my own response, and I’m going to do it just to get out some of my own anger,’ and then it turned into something funny.”
His response was a humorous letter to fans from his own pancake-eating perspective, first seen on the website MayorsManor.com.
“I had some help from my friends down in Newport – we were all sitting around as I was writing it,” Penner said.
‘Pancakegate,’ as the incident soon became known, drew attention from some popular restaurant chains, which expressed interest in working with Penner and the Kings.
The end result culminated on Monday morning with 75 raffle winners and their guests at the Westchester IHOP for a pancake buffet breakfast, entirely donated by IHOP, that also included eggs, bacon, orange juice and coffee, at times served by Penner himself.
Fans earned the opportunity to attend the breakfast by purchasing raffle tickets on LAKings.com, with all proceeds benefiting the Kings Care Foundation. Nearly 400 tickets were sold, raising over $3,100 for the Kings’ non-profit organization.
The biggest obstacle as far as event logistics were concerned was finding a date and time that worked for the Kings, Penner and IHOP, as there was very little time to turn the idea into reality. But things worked out well for all entities, monetarily and from a marketing standpoint.
“This is the best event we’ve ever hosted,” said Philip Fowler, part owner of the Westchester IHOP. “Dustin is so giving of his time, let alone the Kings fans.”
Half of the restaurant was closed to the general public in order to accommodate the flapjack feast, during which Penner was able to visit each table, sign autographs, pose for photos, and even sit down for his own pancake breakfast.
“He put on the hat and the apron, and it was really cool,” said Freddy Ottinger, a Kings season seat member for more than 10 years who was present at the breakfast after buying 14 raffle tickets.
“I know a lot of people have laughed about it but it’s all good fun,” Ottinger said, referring to the entire ‘Pancakegate’ incident. “It’s for the Kings Care Foundation, too.”
“The fans had fun, Dustin had a great time, and I know IHOP enjoyed having us,” said Jennifer Pope, the Kings’ Manager of Community Relations and Kings Care Foundation.
“We’re always looking for new ways to raise money for Kings Care Foundation, engage our players in the community and align ourselves with great organizations like IHOP,” Pope said.
Aside from eager pancake eaters, there was also a large media turnout for the highly publicized buffet breakfast, perhaps an even larger crowd than for a normal team practice. The fact that Penner was able to turn what started out as a public relations nightmare into what ended up being a charitable initiative so quickly was due, in large part, to the media.
“If MayorsManor.com hadn’t published the letter, none of this would have happened,” said Pope. “Once we did announce it, the media was key with Facebook posts, tweets, mentions on our TV and radio broadcasts, etcetera.”
It’s safe to consider it rare that players get emotional support from the media, but in this case, Penner was able to use the media and his own lemons to make lemonade.
Extra maple syrup for anyone who can turn that one into a pancake reference.