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Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Golden Arches span from Queen City to California

By MIKE COTE
April 10. 2016 12:00AM

Richard McDonald, who cofounded McDonald's with his brother, Maurice, was born and raised in Manchester. (COURTESY)



IF RICHARD McDONALD were alive today, you might find him standing in line at Burger King, which recently began serving grilled hot dogs. The co-founder of the most successful restaurant chain in the world didn't care much for hamburgers.

"I prefer hot dogs," the Manchester native told Union Leader columnist John Clayton in 1993.

Lucky for Dick McDonald and his brother, Maurice, millions of people - actually it's up in the billions now - often have a hankering for a burger.

Contrary to popular belief, Ray Kroc did not invent McDonald's. The hard-driving dealmaker lionized in Mark Knopfler's 2004 single "Boom Like That" had the kind of chutzpah it takes to create an international powerhouse, but what he did was take a good idea and run with it.

The McDonald brothers, who graduated from Manchester High School West, get a brief mention in the company history posted on McDonald's corporate website. But the story began a long time before Kroc started selling milkshake mixers in the mid-1950s to a couple of guys operating some burger joints in San Bernadino, Calif.

"Wham, bam. You don't wait long. Shake, fries, patty. You're gone," Knopfler sings, invoking the voice of Kroc, a man who was impressed with the quick-serve model the McDonald brothers had created.

Clayton, now executive director of the Manchester Historic Association, will be talking about the McDonald brothers on Wednesday when the association meets for its annual meeting at the Millyard Museum, 200 Bedford St. The 5:30 p.m. event is free and open to the public. (Call 622-7531 or go to www.manchesterhistoric.org for details.)

"The simple legacy of the McDonald brothers has been lost in part through Ray Kroc's temper," Clayton said Thursday. "When he bought the brothers out he felt he had gotten taken by these two sharp-witted Yankees and launched a vendetta against them, essentially erasing them from the corporate record."

Kroc had no control over the record outside McDonaldland.

"Fortunately, David Halbertstam wrote this great book called "The Fifties," about the decade of the 1950s. Among the many stories he tells is the actual story about how the two brothers from Manchester founded McDonald's, how basically they invented the fast-food restaurant concept. It's a legacy I love to celebrate."

Historic photos of the founding of McDonald's will be on display at the event. Expect to see some golden arches. We can thank the McDonald brothers and architect Stanley Clark Meston, whom the brothers hired in 1952 to design a new restaurant. The plans included giant arches trimmed in neon.

"The problem was to design a building that would be noticeable and attract attention," Meston told the Los Angeles Times in 1989.

The now ubiquitous arches are the company's corporate symbol and recognized worldwide as quintessentially American. Kroc saw gold in those golden arches, convincing the brothers in 1955 to cut a deal with him to take the concept nationwide. Six years later, he bought them out for $2.7 million. And by 1964, even Manchester had a McDonald's.

The McDonald brothers had been lured to California by one of their uncles, who was a detective in Hollywood, Dick McDonald recalled to Clayton. Dick and Maurice worked for Columbia Pictures, driving trucks and doing other odd jobs.

Their path to their namesake business included taking over a movie theater and then operating a hot dog stand before they opened a drive-in barbecue restaurant in 1940 in San Bernadino. Eight years later, they decided to drastically alter their approach after realizing they sold more hamburgers than anything else. By converting the restaurant to self-service operation, they were able to undercut the competition, selling burgers for 15 cents - less than half the rate of their competitors.

"Cheeseburgers were 19 cents. Fries were a dime," Dick McDonald told Clayton. "So was a Coke. Our most expensive item was 20 cents. That was a shake."

The McDonald's of old offered a limited menu, which kept overhead prices low. While items like Chicken McNuggets and the Filet-O-Fish sandwich have had staying power over the years, franchise owners have had to contend with an ever-changing menu that has included pizza, barbecue pork sandwiches, corn dog nuggets, salads served in a cup and, most recently, breakfast served any time.

These days, the company that championed burgers, fries and shakes faces some of its toughest competition from upstarts that focus on burgers, fries and shakes - think Five Guys Burgers and Fries - and don't have a menu weighed down by an overabundance of choice. Even Chipotle, once considered the antithesis of McDonald's (which once owned a stake in the Denver company) is toying with a gourmet burger concept.

While Kroc is long gone, his drive to bring the McDonald brothers' concept to every state in the nation and beyond has enabled McDonald's Corp. to remain a formible competitor.

"These boys have got this down," Knopfler sings as Kroc. "Oughtta be a one of these in every town."

And so it was.

The McDonald brothers still get the last laugh.

"You can buy a Big Mac - and that was Maurice McDonald's nickname, Mac," Clayton said. "But you can't buy a Kroc burger."

Mike Cote is business editor. Contact him at 668-4321 ext. 324 or mcote@unionleader.com.


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