Bob Bestler

There is nothing making America more great than McDonald’s

I think it was 1962 when I tried my first 15-cent McDonald’s burger.

I was a newly discharged Marine, living on pennies in California, and neither I nor my roommates cooked. McDonald’s and the omnipresent taco stands –five for $1 – became our suppers du jour.

I’ve been something of a McDonald’s fan ever since. My kids could spot those golden arches a mile away and we spent a small mint on Happy Meals.

At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, reporters received coupons for free McDonald’s sandwiches. I gorged on quarter-pounders for three weeks and actually lost 10 pounds.

So when I heard about “The Founder,” the movie about how Ray Kroc turned a small burger operation into a multi-billion global enterprise, I was one of the first to see it.

By happenstance, the movie was released nationwide on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, and the parallels between Ray Kroc and Donald Trump, though unmentioned, were unmistakable. A The New Yorker reviewer warned that readers should see one or the other that day, but not both: “Both would be too much.”

Kroc, superbly played by Michael Keaton, was a down-on-his luck salesman in Des Plaines, Ill., trying – with little success – to get restaurants to purchase five-spindle milkshake mixers.

When a restaurant in San Bernardino, Calif., ordered eight – a total of 40 mixers –Kroc was so impressed he got in his car and headed West. He had to see this for himself.

What he saw was the beginnings of today’s fast-food industry.

Two McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac, served hamburgers, french fries and milkshakes – and that was all. They had designed a device that put ketchup and mustard on a dozen buns in seconds, then a worker added two pickles – not one, not three, but two – to each burger.

The carefully crafted operation – they designed the layout with chalk on a tennis court until all unnecessary steps were eliminated – meant customers could get their meal in about 30 seconds – not the 30 minutes it took at most drive-in burger joints.

At the time, that kind of speed was mind-boggling and it didn't take long for Kroc, always on the lookout for get-rich ideas, to insert himself into the McDonalds’ relatively small-scale success.

Ultimately, through heavy-handed wheeling and dealing, he bought out the hapless McDonald brothers. They didn't want to sell, but realized they were no match for the hard-driving Kroc. The meanest words out of Mac McDonald, after one of Kroc’s self-serving deals: “I’m a tad miffed.”

Asked why he wanted their restaurant rather than go out and start one himself, Kroc gave an answer that goes a long way in defining McDonald’s phenomenal success.

“Three words,” he answered. “McDonald’s. Is. Family.” It’s also American, he said, then added that no one would buy hamburgers at a place called Krocs.

The movie is called “The Founder,” though Kroc was not the founder. But he was the visionary who took a good idea and through tenacity, persistence and a little luck, made McDonald’s what it is today.

He paid the McDonalds $2.7 million for their business in 1961. Today it is worth $100 billion, with 37,000 stores in 100 countries. Founder or no, Kroc ignited a fast-food revolution that many of us enjoy most every day.

Contact Bob Bestler at bestler6@tds.net.

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