SACRAMENTO, CA- Eppie Johnson, successful restauranteur and founder of Eppie's Great Race is dead at 85.

Family members said Johnson died in his sleep at his home over the weekend.

Johnson, the son of a Greek family and University of Nevada graduate, worked in his father's restaurant before opening his own "Eppie's" restaurant at 30th and N Streets in Sacramento.

He eventually owned 16 restaurants and was known for his colorful marketing, including a "Professor Eppie" campaign that offered students who earned straight A's a free Sundae.

He became best known for foundingEppie's Great Race, the country's first triathloncontaining arun, bike ride and kayakleg along the American River.

The race eventually included about 5,000 participants from across the country every year.

The money raised from Eppie's Great Racesupported Sacramento County's Therapeutic Recreation Services to help those with physical and mental challenges.

"This is a program for people with mental and physical disabilities. There's about 15-hundred people involved in their programs. And they're going all year round. And we provide them with a good percentage of their budget. I hope I'm still around when it gets to a million dollars," Johnson said in an interview last year.

This last summer, the amount raised passed the one million mark.

The lone remaining Eppie's Restaurantin West Sacramentostill has scores of faithful customers.

"You always got consistent quality. You always got a good product. And you always got more than what you expected," explained long-time customer Michael Baber Monday night.

Eppie's Great Race will continue. His son George Johnson, along with dozens of volunteers have stepped in to help with planning.

Local talk show host Kitty O'Nealinterviewed Johnson this summer on his years in the restaurant business and sponsoring the Great Race.

"I think to make make your mark in two ways in a city is remarkable, not only with the restaurants that are established thatare so fondly remembered now, but also to have this Great's really an incredible thing," O'Neal said.

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