On April 15, 1955, Ray Kroc opened his own McDonald’s franchise in Des Plaines, Illinois (seen below). While tons of people head to this so-called “first McDonald’s” every year, the fact is, the building standing there is not only not the first McDonald’s (Kroc actually opened the ninth location of the franchise), it’s not even the original building, but just a reconstruction. Even so, that spot of ground did have a huge impact on American life as we know it and spawned what was at one point the largest restaurant chain in the world --the title is now held by Yum! Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, etc.) and followed by Subway.
Image via ChicagoGeek [Flickr]
How Did McDonald’s Get Taken Over By Kroc?
When I was a kid, I always thought whoever Mr. McDonald was, he must be super rich. As it turns out, Richard and Maurice McDonald, who started the original restaurant, only made $2.7 million on the deal. While that does seem like a good amount of cash, just think how much the restaurant is worth these days. To make matters worse, the brothers insisted on retaining the rights to their first restaurant in San Bernardino, so Ray opened a McDonald’s restaurant right by theirs and ran them out of business. Worse still, even though the original deal involved the brothers earning 0.5% of the chain’s annual revenues, Kroc refused to honor that part of the verbal agreement after the McDonald’s brothers refused to sell him their original restaurant and the land it stood on.
And it’s not like the McDonald’s Brothers didn’t do anything but open an everyday burger joint; if they did, Ray probably wouldn’t have been so interested in taking the whole thing over. They innovated many of the ideas that have made modern fast food restaurants so successful, including assembly line kitchens, simplistic menus and self-serve counters. The menus had nothing on them but hamburgers, cheeseburgers, French fries, potato chips, sodas, milkshakes and apple pies. Because things were so quick and efficient, prices were about half of what it cost to get a similar meal at a diner.
Image via _skynet [Flickr]
McDonald’s Across the Globe
It wasn’t too long after Kroc took over completely that the chain expanded out of America, first to Canada, then Costa Rica, Panama, Japan, Europe and Australia. These days, there's McDonald's located all over the world. In fact, the image above shows just how widely spread they are in the U.S. While this world-wide globalization has led to many negative views of the corporation, some people say the company has actually helped improve the standard of service in some areas of the world. For example, when McDonald’s opened in Hong Kong in 1975, it was the first restaurant to consistently offer clean public restrooms. Soon afterwards, customers began to demand the same from other restaurants in the area. Whether McDonald’s has a positive or negative impact in the country it enters may be a matter of opinion, but one thing the restaurant takes great pride in is their localization of the menu based on the native tastes of the area. Some interesting menu items from around the world include:
- Quebec has a regional treat known as poutine, which is a dish with French fries and cheese curds covered in gravy. McDonald’s in the area serve this as a popular side dish.
- Throughout Canada, you can order chicken fajitas from McDonald’s. This seemed weird to me that you can’t find these in South Western American states where fajitas are a popular staple of Mexican restaurants.
- In Egypt, you can find Big Macs with chicken or fish in place of beef and a “McFalafel” sandwich.
- Throughout the Middle East, McDonald’s offers a “McArabia” sandwich, which is a piece of flat bread with chicken or beef patties. They also serve a special wrap called the Paneer Salsa wrap, which takes fried, seasoned cottage cheese and wraps it in flat bread with veggies.
- Most Indian menus are largely different than those in America, as pig and cow products are not served outside of Southern India. The chicken and fish are also prepared in separate areas because or strict religious laws regarding the preparation of food for vegetarians. One of the area’s specialties is the Maharaja Mac, which was originally made with lamb meat but now is made with chicken. They also serve a dish called the McCurry pan, which consists of a bowl made from flakey dough filled with chicken in a tomato-curry sauce. Of all the international McDonald’s menu items, I think this is the one I’d want to try the most.
- Throughout Asia, you can order a side of McRice in place of fries, this is just an order of plain rice with a cool name.
- In China, you can enjoy pineapple and taro pies and a Shogun burger with teriyaki pork. You might also consider the Rice Fantastic, which is like a beef or chicken sandwich with rice patties in place of buns.
- On the Chinese island of Cheung Chau, you can also enjoy mushroom burgers in place of beef during the local Bun Festival.
- In Japan, they serve something called the Ebi Fillet-O, which is a fried shrimp sandwich. There is also a Tamago Double Mac, which has three beef paties, a poached egg, bacon and pepper sauce. You can even top off your meal with tea milkshakes.
- In Thailand they sell corn pies.
- In Finland and Norway, you can have wraps with fried fish instead of chicken or beef.
- In El Salvador, you can often have French fries made with yucca instead of potatoes.
- In Mexico, a popular breakfast option is the McMolletes, English muffins with refried beans, cheese and pico de gallo salsa.
- In New Zealand, a popular favorite is the Kiwiburger, which has beef, a poached egg, veggies, cheese and beetroot.
Good Ol’ American Innovation
Even in America, certain locations have their own specialty treats. The McLobster and McCrab are served seasonally throughout New England. And in the late 1990’s, Chicago locations offered a hamburger with barbecue sauce and Canadian bacon that was dubbed “the Beef Wennington” after a notable Chicago Bulls player.
Many of the company’s biggest successes were actually created locally by franchisees, including the Filet-O-Fish, the Big Mac and the Egg McMuffin. The Filet-O-Fish was made by a Cincinnati franchise owner who wanted to offer his Catholic customers a meal they could still eat on Fridays and during lent. Ray Kroc tried a similar idea at his original restaurant, but his Hula Burger, a sandwich a pineapple slice in place of meat was a huge flop.
As for the Big Mac, it was created by an early Pittsburgh franchiser who wanted to serve something adults would enjoy when feeding their kiddos at the restaurant. The corporate heads told him he could only create new menu items creating ingredients on the existing menu, which is where the Big Mac was born. The Egg McMuffin was in a similar position as the Big Mac inventor, only he went ahead and added a new creation to the menu without contacting headquarters. The corporation was quite upset that he started selling the McMuffin without their blessing, but they quickly changed their minds when they saw how popular it was. Image Via VirtualErn [Flickr]
It’s not only the menu that headquarters like to keep consistent. Locations are largely required to look similar to one another on the inside. That’s not to say there aren’t a few stand out locations though. The “Solid Gold McDonald’s” by the Rock and Roll of Fame is themed after fifties rock and roll. Victoria, British Columbia has a restaurant with a 24-carat gold chandelier and other fancy light fixtures (seen above). The McDonald’s in Stratford-upon-Avon has a very subtle design, as all buildings in the area are required to conform to the historic look of Shakespeare’s birthplace. Whether you love McDonald’s or loathe it, there’s no arguing that the restaurant has had a huge impact on our society. Heck, Fast Food Nation has estimated that one of eight workers in America have been employed at the restaurant at some point of their lives. So you guys have any weird McDonald’s in your area? Maybe one with unique menu items or a strange design.
Image Via buschap [Flickr]