When the Dueling Irons restaurant opened its doors in 2014, it wasn’t long before Dan Rankin started showing up each day. He had been having his daily breakfast elsewhere until there was an unexpected breakup in his daily routine.
“They let my favorite waitress go, or she quit, anyway, I followed her over here,” recalled Dan.
That waitress is Sami, and each morning she or another server at the Post Falls restaurant brings Dan a plate of sausage, hash browns, eggs and toast, an order that rarely ever changes. “I just lift my finger up in the air and they know,” smiled Dan.
Owner Thomas Didra sees a lot of veterans, retired law enforcement and other emergency responders come through his door. Vets will often be wearing a hat signifying their branch or service, or if they served in Korea, Vietnam or Desert Storm. Dan Rankin is a veteran and dons a cap that goes back further than most.
Now 95, Dan served under famous American General George Patton in the 13th Army Division. His job, as he put it, was to repair tanks that were shot up by the Germans. “Sometimes they had too many hits so they became the parts department,” he said.
It’s not difficult to spot the World War II veteran parked at his usual booth. Regulars and travelers along I-90 take notice of the hat and often pause to say hello and thank Dan for his service to the country. About three years back, a few people also offered to pay for his breakfast, setting off a chain of generosity that continues each and every day.
“At first we kept it pretty small. A few of the regulars would donate the cost of a couple meals,” said Didra. Word around the restaurant began to spread and more visitors or semi-regulars wanted to buy Dan’s breakfast as a thank you for his service. Soon, instead of someone picking up a check, a tab was started. This past April, local food enthusiast Keith Boe posted on social media that he finally had the chance to cover Dan’s breakfast, and as thousands of his followers saw the post, Dan’s story exploded.
“We’ve gotten calls and letters from all over the U.S., up and down the East Coast, Canada, even Australia,” said Didra.
The breakfast story has been highlighted in local papers and magazines, TV news, and has even gone so far as to be featured on NBC’s “Today Show” and recently an article in People magazine. “It’s truly amazing to see the power of that little post,” said Didra.
It’s now pretty much a daily occurrence for Dan to meet someone stopping by Dueling Irons having read about his story somewhere online. An organization from New Jersey recently sent him a letter thanking him for his service and offering to buy his breakfast, and a woman drove from Montana just to meet Dan and add to the tab. For the 95-year-old, the sudden, unexpected fame is a bit shocking.
“I don’t know who started it. There’s nothing abnormal about me other than I survived the invasion of France,” said Dan.
Didra and his staff keep track of the donations that roll in via check or cash. Most donations cover a single breakfast, around $10. As it currently stands, it would be several months before Dan would need to reach for his wallet, and they don’t see that ever becoming an issue. “We just love having him here and are extremely grateful for the support and show of community, and it’s amazing to be a part of,” said Didra.
Dan is just six years into retirement after finally auctioning off his trucking business and shop at the age of 89. After breakfast he usually returns home to watch TV and spend some time with his little dog. He has outlived most of his family with only a few nieces and nephews living in the area. If he needs help around the house, his nephew can still help him out. It’s at Dueling Irons, however, where Dan has adopted a whole new family that cares deeply about him.
“Restaurant folks have become like family,” he said.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, less than half a million of the 16 million veterans who served during World War II were alive in 2018. Meeting with someone who lived through one of the greatest conflicts in human history is becoming rarer each day; something Didra believes is helping drive the donations but also brings Dan some renewed feelings of joy.
“I think he’s enjoyed it thoroughly (the sudden fame). A lot of people don’t think about World War II as much anymore. The ‘thank yous’ are a big deal, and I think he really likes getting to tell his story,” Didra said.
In a time when people seem to be at complete odds with one another, the generosity toward Dan is something that has truly resonated across the Post Falls community and the nation.
“With the current climate of today, seeing a nice story about someone who did a great service for our country is a really big draw for people, and it’s a really nice thing to see,” said Didra.
Dueling Irons is always accepting donations toward Dan’s breakfast tab. You can give the restaurant a call or just stop by with whatever you’d like to give. If you’re lucky, you’ll see Dan sitting in his favorite booth, having the usual.