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Ray Kroc
November 1, 2011 7:12 PM   Subscribe

This had to be the most amazing merchandising operation I had ever seen! I don't remember whether I ate a hamburger for lunch that day or not. I went back to my car and waited around until about 2:30 in the afternoon, when the crowd dwindled down to just an occasional customer. Then I went over to the building and introduced myself to Mac and Dick McDonald. (very previously)

Like many of the 20th century's most influential entrepreneurs, Ray Kroc was not a creator. When Kroc came onto the scene, convenience food already existed in many forms, from local diners to hot dog stands. But it was Kroc who had the cunning ability to grasp all the complexities of the fast-food concept and deliver it in the best possible way.
posted by Trurl (45 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I never had a hamburger (and no desire to have one either), but I passed by the place many times: Here is the location today: a true armpit of a place
posted by growabrain at 7:36 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now here's a great Alternate History potential moment. Ray Kroc introduces himself to Mac and Dick MacDonald in their new hamburger restaurant (pp. 11-12):
"I've been in the kitchens of a lot of restaurants and drive-ins selling Multimixers around the country," I told them, "and I have never seen anything to equal the potential of this place of yours. Why don't you open a series of units like this? It would be a gold mine for you, and for me, too, because every one would boost my Multimixer sales. What d'you say?"

"See that big white house with the wide front porch?" [Mac MacDonald] asked. "That's our home and we love it. We sit out on the porch in the evenings and watch the sunset and look down on our place here. It's peaceful. We don't need any more problems. We are in a position to enjoy life now, and that's just what we intend to do."
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:37 PM on November 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is the restaurant as Kroc would have seen it that day.
posted by Trurl at 7:40 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've told the true story here before.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:47 PM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is why we can't have nice things.
posted by palbo at 8:25 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ray Kroc was the hero of Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza. Roger Dawson tells what happened when Monaghan finally met Kroc in "The 13 Secrets of Power Performance (Prentice Hall)":
For years he would call Kroc's office every month to get an appointment, but was never successful. Then he heard that Kroc, who was by then 78 years old, was in failing health. So Monaghan flew to San Diego, determined to stay until he could meet his idol.

His persistence paid off and Kroc's assistants finally granted him a 15-minute audience that turned into a 2 1/2-hour mutual appreciation meeting.

Kroc peppered him with questions about his operation and impressed Monaghan with how quickly he caught on.

“In no time at all he understood Domino's as well as anyone except me,” Tom said.

Suddenly Ray Kroc leaned forward in his chair and said, “I'm going to give you some advice. You have it made now. You can do anything you want; make all the money you can possibly spend. So what I think you should do now is slow down. Take it easy. Open a few stores every year, but be careful. Don't make any new deals that could get you into trouble. Play it safe.”

This astounded Monaghan because conservatism was the last thing he expected to hear from his hero.

He finally blurted out, “But that wouldn't be any fun!”

Kroc paused and looked hurt. Finally he broke into a huge grin and started pumping Tom's hand.

“That's just what I hoped you'd say!”
-- from: Dr. Rob Gilbert with Joe DePalma
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:41 PM on November 1, 2011 [11 favorites]


Here is the location today: a true armpit of a place

How is it that McDonalds hasn't bought this place and turned into a shrine/test-lab for all the cool new stuff?
Seems like such an opportunity wasted.
posted by madajb at 10:05 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


How is it that McDonalds hasn't bought this place and turned into a shrine/test-lab for all the cool new stuff?

Because the location is in a horrible neighborhood in one of the most dangerous cities in SoCal. Too bad, it used to be a great place to hang out when I was a kid. They built a new one sort of across the street that was the turnaround spot for the cruisers when I first started driving. But it's a battlezone now.
posted by buggzzee23 at 10:27 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


San Bernardino was some kind of fast food petri dish in the 40s through the 60s; Taco Bell, Del Taco and Der Wienerschnitzel can all trace their heritage back to Berdoo. Neal Baker, unknown outside of the San Bernardino area though a local legend in his own backyard, was the innovator and inspiration for many a fast food empire across the globe.
posted by buggzzee23 at 10:35 PM on November 1, 2011


Establishing beachheads in European capitals was just the beginning. Over the course of the decade, the thousand stores that the company opened overseas fueled its 27 percent annual growth rate. Golden Arches sprouted from the soil in virtually every continent -- in South America, in Europe, and in Asia. The chain became so universally recognized as a symbol of American enterprise and influence that, when Marxist guerrillas blew up a McDonald's in San Salvador in 1979, they proclaimed the terrorist act a lethal blow against "imperialist America." (They were wrong.)

That MaDonald's was certainly a lethal attack on San Salvador, however.
posted by longsleeves at 10:38 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


That San Bernardino restaurant was the first successful cell, but Kroc's McDonald's was the successful organism, and I guess its center of gravity is in Illinois.

McDonald's has been huge for a long time, but at least locally it feels like the tide is receding. We've lost a location or two and they weren't replaced. Maybe we've reached peak burger?
posted by Kevin Street at 10:41 PM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: Buy 'em by the bag!
posted by mannequito at 10:42 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


How is it that McDonalds hasn't bought this place and turned into a shrine/test-lab for all the cool new stuff?

Their shrine to the first franchised store is in Des Plaines, IL, and operates as a sort of museum, preserving what it looked like in 1955. As for test labs, I'm guessing they have plenty around the world, with many in Chicagoland itself.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:44 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


McDonald's has been huge for a long time, but at least locally it feels like the tide is receding. We've lost a location or two and they weren't replaced. Maybe we've reached peak burger?

Maybe peak restaurant franchises happened at the beginning of the recession. McDonalds seems an odd one to have to retrench. I thought they had a bullet proof model of buying land, then renting it to franchisors along with all the other restaurant things they sell.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:46 PM on November 1, 2011


(Top paragraph above is quoted from the second link)
posted by longsleeves at 10:46 PM on November 1, 2011


Maybe slightly off-topic, but Westward The Course Of Empire Takes Its Way was probably my favorite thing I ever read from DFW. Or maybe not favorite, but certainly the most enjoyable. Practically every page had something to make me laugh out loud or shake my head in bemused confusion ... bemusion?
posted by mannequito at 10:51 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


My family started going to McDonalds about 1960, back when the signs used to say "Over 400 million sold" and the number was updated periodically. Obviously since that was 50 years ago, my sensory memory is perhaps a bit hazy, but it seems like the food tasted the same -- although I remember thinking that the cheeseburgers were a lot larger.

Whether that was because I was 8 then or because they really have shrunk, I dunno. Maybe both.

Eventually they changed it to say "Billions and billions sold". Then when the entire chain remodeled, they got rid of that sign entirely.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:00 PM on November 1, 2011


I had never read Kroc's autobiography before, it is fascinating. Thanks.
posted by LarryC at 11:03 PM on November 1, 2011


In 1906, Kroc's father had taken four-year-old Raymond to see a phrenologist -- a practitioner of a nineteenth century "medicine" that divined insights into a person's character and capabilities from the skull's shape and size. After groping and probing the bumps on the youngster's head, the phrenologist pronounced that the child would work in the food-service industry.

You've got to be kidding me. So, in 1906, the head-measuring guy divined that soft-skulled Ray would burgeon into an ace deviled meat peddler, or *WAIT* did he also predict the future of industrial food service..? So many questions.
posted by obscurator at 11:36 PM on November 1, 2011


What has always amazed me is that almost every important innovation in the fast-food industry since it has matured has originated with McDonald's. They invented the fast-food breakfast. They invented the combo-meal. They invented super-sizing. They invented the two-window drive-through system. They invented the use of radio headsets for drive through workers. They invented the Happy Meal.

And even today, even given how long all their competitors have had to learn from McDonald's success, McDonald's restaurants are still far and away the most consistently clean and predictably the same fast-food restaurants in the US. The employees are almost always notably friendlier than those of their competitors.

Say what you will about the healthiness of their food. What I respect and admire is this perfectionism and success.

I'm glad I never worked in fast-food, though.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:03 AM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm glad I never worked in fast-food, though.
But thanks to the internet, you can still watch the training videos...
posted by obscurator at 12:09 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


How is it that McDonalds hasn't bought this place and turned into a shrine/test-lab for all the cool new stuff?

Well, as mentioned, Store #1 in Des Plaines is maintained as a shrine of sorts in amber, although not a public museum. The showcase store is the Rock 'n' Roll McDonald's on Chicago's Near North Side.

Their test lab, of sorts, is Hamburger University, although its main purpose is churning out by-the-book managers and assistant managers. At the nearby Oakbrook headquarters, there is an Innovation Center replete with full-size mockups of things like kitchen test layouts.

Food product testing includes a number of stints at tasting centers around the country before experimental regional releases. One reason for this is that they are aiming at a global, or at least national, palate, and there are certain markets that have the right demographic profile, determined obviously through years of marketing data and feedback.

What I respect and admire is this perfectionism and success.

True enough, although there was an infamous crisis about a decade ago. (I myself experienced, to my surprise, two utter meltdowns in counter service at two separate stores around that time.) I believe this was after they had gotten rid of the warming trays, making every burger fresh, but before they had simplified the menu and refocused the brand. The menu has once again burgeoned to over 100 items, and franchisees are under severe pressure to remodel stores and make other changes at their own expense.

Ah well. Now that I'm diabetic, it's largely academic for me....
posted by dhartung at 12:25 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because the location is in a horrible neighborhood in one of the most dangerous cities in SoCal.

San Bernardino? Really? Granted, I never spent a lot of time in the IE but I never thought of it as dangerous. Wikipedia says you're right, though.

Maybe MickyD's could stage a revival.
posted by madajb at 12:33 AM on November 2, 2011


The menu has once again burgeoned to over 100 items

Wow, it has been a long time since I've been in a McDonalds.
My kid got one of those lame-o "Free Apple Juice or Milk" coupons for Halloween. Maybe I should stop by and see what they've added.

They still have the nuclear-hot apple pie, right?
posted by madajb at 12:39 AM on November 2, 2011


some kind of fast food petri dish

Exactly.
posted by pracowity at 1:32 AM on November 2, 2011



They still have the nuclear-hot apple pie, right?


Only if you know where to look.
posted by persona at 3:59 AM on November 2, 2011


Capitalism at its very finest.
posted by caddis at 4:45 AM on November 2, 2011


From the book (bottom of page 8 ),

I can't remember whether I ate a hamburger for lunch that day or not

I mean, wow! I think that to most of us, the idea of investing in a hamburger business where we never sampled a burger would seem foolish and rash.

The message here is that for a business to be successful, it doesn't matter what the product is, only that it sells. Capitalism in a microcosm.
posted by DavidandConquer at 5:25 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


This seems appropriate.
posted by tommasz at 5:42 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


"See that big white house with the wide front porch?" [Mac MacDonald] asked. "That's our home and we love it. We sit out on the porch in the evenings and watch the sunset and look down on our place here. It's peaceful. We don't need any more problems. We are in a position to enjoy life now, and that's just what we intend to do."
*heavy sigh* So, so many things, including MetaFilter, would be better if more folks took that approach.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:42 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a huge fan of the classic American fast-food burger. It's a shame that McDonald's no longer sells it, but it's fantastic that there seems to be a revival of the real thing with new chains emerging from the pool of local upstarts. Even the established national chains are looking over their shoulders and trying to up their game.

The real treasures are the first-wave of 15¢ style joints that are still making burgers the way the original McDonald's did. I know you lucky bastards out west have tons of Mom & Pops and regional institutions, but my favorite one in the Philadelphia area has a similarly simple menu. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, real milkshakes (both kinds, black AND white). No fries - you get a bag of Herr's chips. I like places who focus on a few things and do them well. Their latest innovation is the option of adding bacon.

Also, this.
posted by snottydick at 6:44 AM on November 2, 2011


So, in 1906, the head-measuring guy divined that soft-skulled Ray would burgeon into an ace deviled meat peddler

He did. "Sir," the phrenologist said, "your son is a meathead."
posted by octobersurprise at 6:52 AM on November 2, 2011


They still have the nuclear-hot apple pie, right?

No - a casualty in the nutrition wars of the early 90s. For the nuclear fried pie of your memory you should go to Whataburger.
posted by dirtdirt at 7:06 AM on November 2, 2011


Indeed, tommasz. I came here to post that YT - one of my all time, most very favorite Knopfler tunes.
posted by yoga at 7:44 AM on November 2, 2011


I'm a huge fan of the classic American fast-food burger.

What exactly is the "classic American fast-food burger"?
posted by madcaptenor at 7:46 AM on November 2, 2011


snottydick, in Austin we have P. Terry's, which I'm craving even now. Makes their fries fresh from actual potatoes every day and serves a reasonably sized Black Angus burger for a decent price. And cane sugar Dr Pepper. Mmmph. They say they were inspired by reading Fast Food Nation.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:04 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you live in our around Texas and are craving a "classic American fast food burger", just go to any Whataburger. I'm lucky to have grown up around such an awesome fast food joint.
posted by Malice at 9:12 AM on November 2, 2011


Or* I swear Swype never wants to type o-r.
posted by Malice at 9:13 AM on November 2, 2011


As someone who has spent considerable time traveling with a wheelchair-bound relative, I have to say this: McDonald's always has clean, spacious, well laid-out handicap-accessible restrooms. And trust me, sometimes this is a genuine lifesaver. Especially when traveling through unfamiliar areas where services appear to be in short supply.

For that alone I say thank you, McDonald's.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:04 AM on November 2, 2011


What exactly is the "classic American fast-food burger"?

It's a fried hamburger, freshly prepared on a griddle, similar to the technique employed by the McDonald brothers as described in the original link. It can be prepared en masse like the busier places do, or it can be made to order, but the thin patty ensures rapid cooking and relatively fast service. It should be greasy, loaded with sodium, and absolutely horrible for your long-term survival prospects.

There is another style that is no less classic, even if it is less common, based on the 5¢ burger craze of the 1920s, when legions of imitators copied the White Castle business model & their sliders, essentially creating the fast food industry.

Eventually, the large chains started shifting to crap like Burger King's conveyor-belt broiler system and, finally, the lovingly hand-microwaved precooked frozen patties we know and... love (?) today.
posted by snottydick at 1:15 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


One thing that I find interesting is that Five Guys basically took the pre-Kroc McDonalds business model (fried burgers done on a griddle, to order, plus fries and a few other items) and have made it scale and shown that it can be successful. So it's not necessarily obvious, in retrospect, that the McDonalds would have been unsuccessful had they decided not to sell out.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:23 PM on November 2, 2011


McDonald's doesn't use microwaved precooked patties. Still 10:1 pound hamburgers cooked on a griddle. (*) The fat content is in the 20-something percentage, and the salt, if done right, is a single shake of a commercial shaker. 1/8 tsp, tops? There is probably more in the ketchup and pickles. As it should be.

(There was an unfortunate time where they experimented with a pre-cooking scheme that didn't really work. The key was that they didn't toast the buns, and that wrecked everything. You would batch cook the meat and store it in a warmer thing, and then you'd assemble the sandwiches in a separate process. Prior to that, it was a complicated dance of timing the toasting of the buns, cooking the meat and putting the condiments on in time for the meat to finish cooking. They did use microwaves, but only very sparingly. It was just enough to melt the cheese and soften the buns. Literally like 2 seconds per sandwich in a 1000 watt oven.)

(*) The griddles now are clamshell style, where a second griddle comes down and cooks both sides at once. It actually improves the burger, imho. Nowhere for the flavor to escape. And they cook in something like 90 seconds. Perfectly.

I am a graduate of Hamburger University. And yes, uniformity is a big part of the process. They literally have it down to a science, and failing to to it their way is a recipe for failure. In addition to that, I learned a lot of good stuff about process engineering, fixing HVAC systems, personnel management, inventory management, problem solving, programming cash registers and general thinking on my feet. There were a couple of courses, and I did all but the last one (supervising multiple restaurants). While it was specific to McDonald's operations, it was pretty in-depth. There are MBAs I know that don't have as good of an understanding of how to get shit done than Hamburger U graduates.

(Fun fact: I worked at a store that was across the street from the place that made the menu boards. We had the first prototypes of the movable boards that changed between breakfast and regular menu.)

Also, the McDonald brothers pretty much did what someone quoted. They still ran their stand until they retired. They only sold their name and their processes.
I can't remember whether I ate a hamburger for lunch that day or not

I mean, wow! I think that to most of us, the idea of investing in a hamburger business where we never sampled a burger would seem foolish and rash.

The message here is that for a business to be successful, it doesn't matter what the product is, only that it sells. Capitalism in a microcosm.
I'm not sure if you are being snarky or not, but yes. He didn't need to eat one, all the customers streaming in and out of the place proved they were good.
posted by gjc at 7:38 PM on November 2, 2011 [7 favorites]


There are MBAs I know that don't have as good of an understanding of how to get shit done than Hamburger U graduates.

Based on my interactions with MBAs, there are preschool graduates with a better understanding of how to get shit done than your average MBA.
posted by madajb at 9:43 PM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


How is it that McDonalds hasn't bought this place and turned into a shrine/test-lab for all the cool new stuff?
Seems like such an opportunity wasted.
--madajb

Because it isn't Ray Kroc's store. What I heard (pre-internet so I don't have a source) is that Ray Kroc tried to get them to closing their store down (since it used his brand name but wasn't under his control, and McDonalds is all about getting exactly what you expect from any store at any location), but couldn't force them to legally, so he opened one of his franchises nearby in an attempt to run them out of business.
posted by eye of newt at 11:17 PM on November 2, 2011


eye of newt is correct:
Kroc [then acting as national franchise agent] continually clashed with the McDonald brothers over changes he wanted to make in their original formula. Kroc became increasingly frustrated and decided he wanted control of McDonald's all to himself. So in 1961, he bought out the McDonalds for $2.7 million-cash. Kroc thought the deal included the original McDonald's restaurant in San Bernardino, but the brothers said it did not. Infuriated, Kroc confided to a long-time employee, "I'm not normally a vindictive man, but this time I'm going to get those sons-of-bitches." And he knew just how to do it. Without the rights to their own name, the McDonalds were forced to rename their restaurant The Big M. So Kroc opened a brand-new McDonald's one block away and put The Big M out of business.

The old sentimentalist.
posted by dhartung at 2:40 PM on November 4, 2011


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