Fast food restaurants have become a mainstay of our communities, argues columnist Michael Apichella
Back in 1954, McDonald’s founder and first CEO, 54-year-old Ray Kroc, stumbled upon a dining formula that not only took the USA by storm, but in time Prague, London, Paris, Beijing and Moscow, as well as countless in-between provincial burgs large and small. And now, 65 years later, Stowmarket’s finally got its first set of iconic golden arches! I’ll come back to this presently. First, when I was kid, small-restaurant owners despaired when a McDonald’s opened nearby.
The public disliked the franchises, too, asking why anyone would eat hurried food (the term ‘fast food’ hadn’t quite caught on yet) when tasty, home-cooked fare eaten at leisure is better for one’s digestion. Families I knew pointedly drove past McDonald’s to stop at a ‘slow-food’ restaurant after church, or mid-week, giving mum and dad a break from cooking for a big brood.
My wife and I laughed at families who would choose ‘Happy Meals’ instead of enjoying local cuisine in any number of excellent eateries. But years later, I admit, I’m a reconstructed McDonald’s snob. When our kids came along, it made perfect sense to seek out good, inexpensive, comfort foods when catering for children as well as adults.
Frankly, nowadays, it’s rare to see an empty McDonald’s no matter where you are. Because of fluctuating tastes, work schedules, and lifestyles, McDonald’s has become a mainstay of our communities, with some municipalities having second and third franchises in their suburbs.
As Stowmarket residents discovered recently at the McDonald’s grand opening, there were queues of cars and people waiting to try out their new McDonald’s restaurant in Cedars Park. A delighted Carol Rogerson, franchisee, told this paper the reaction had been ‘absolutely incredible’.
Many people fail to realise that not only do McDonald’s franchises deliver what customers want, they offer their workers an enviable package of benefits, including high-quality training programmes, flexible working hours, and opportunities for career progression and personal development.
As a youngster, I worked in food service, mostly at ski lodges, and many of my pals did the same in town centres. I can assure you, all we got was an hourly wage and a discount on a meal if we happened to be working a breakfast, lunch or evening-meal shift. According to McDonald’s.com, their workers’ benefits include: Discounts and exclusive offers with over 800 retailers, free meals while on shift, company car for restaurant managers and the opportunity to gain nationally-recognised qualifications while you’re working and earning.
To be sure, however, working as a short-order cook taught me plenty. My boss, Lou, a retired sailor, kept his kitchen ship-shape. Once I slopped hot cooking oil on the floor and grabbed a mop, spreading slippery fat everywhere. Lou growled: “That’s no way to swab the deck! Dance with the mop. Like this.” He demonstrated a neat two-step hop, washing away the spill effortlessly. All he needed was a hornpipe! “That’s how they teach you in the Navy!”
At the time, I didn’t want dancing lessons with a mop. But years later I was thankful for his tip. After graduating from college and moving to France, I applied to teach at a school in Paris. The job went to someone else, so I worked as a janitor at a church in Paris’s posh 7th. Once or twice a week, I was called to the kitchen to efficiently swab messy boeuf bourguignon, couscous, or coq au vin from the tiled floor tout de suite, winning me much favour with my boss. You bet I blessed old Lou for that free dancing lesson. Just as Stowmarket folks are blessing Ray Kroc today.