First NH McDonald's to hold grand reopening

New Hampshire Union Leader
January 10. 2013 11:00PM
Ron Evans, owner and operator, stands at his newly renovated South Willow Street McDonald's restaurant in Manchester on Tuesday. Top: courtesy; Above and left: Thomas Roy/Union leader (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER -- Even though the McDonald's fast-food revolution can trace its roots to Manchester, where founders Richard and Maurice McDonald were born, the city did not see its first McDonald's until 1964.

By then, Ray Kroc had purchased the business from the brothers three years earlier and had expanded it from the original restaurant in San Bernadino, Calif., and eight franchises to nearly 600 locations.

Bill Vanderwolk opened that first New Hampshire franchise on South Willow Street, and built an organization of 17 franchises throughout the state, before he sold the restaurants in the mid-1980s. Ron Evans, at the time a McDonald's corporate employee, bought the Manchester restaurant in 1987.

On Saturday, Evans will preside over a grand reopening at 196 South Willow St. to celebrate a new look for an old franchise.

"McDonald's assigns a site code to every restaurant in each state, and the code for this store is 0001," he said. "That indicates it was the first store in New Hampshire. Our store number is 596, which means we were the 596th franchise in the world."

According to the McDonald's Corporation website as of June 2012, McDonald's has more than 33,000 restaurants around the world in 118 countries.

Burgers and more

Evans has worked for McDonald's since 1971, with 16 years on the corporate side and 26 years as an owner in New Hampshire. At one time, he owned eight franchises in Nashua, Merrimack and Manchester, but over time sold five, keeping the three Manchester locations on South Willow Street, Hanover Street and Second Street.

He's seen the business evolve over those years, as the menu adapted to changing tastes, with expanded breakfast offerings, salads and healthier menu choices.

"We've really tried to adapt to the changing lifestyle of the American public," he said.

One thing that hasn't changed substantially since Evans acquired his first franchise in 1987 is the cost of the basic burger. "The basic hamburger hasn't gone up that much," he said. "I think it was about 79 cents at the time, and it is 89 cents now."

Complete overhaul

The building on South Willow Street has had a complete overhaul. "We stripped the entire exterior of the building and put in a new facade and new signage on the outside to meet the current McDonald's look," he said. "And we added a second order point in the drive-through lane so customers can order twice as fast."

The interior of the building was gutted as well to allow for a more modern look, with padded seating, new computer stations, free wi-fi and a new counter service area.

Evans wouldn't comment on the cost of the renovation, except to say it was "a significant investment for a small business person like myself, and there are still costs creeping in."

He has added to the restaurant work force as well, going from about 50 employees to 65 with the reopening.

"We will continue to push that number with our full- and part-time workers," he said. "Every one of my restaurant managers started as a crew member, so it creates a unique opportunity for us to hire a significant number of new people, many of whom, in times like this, are looking to kick-start a new career."

Grand reopening

The grand reopening on Saturday will include a donation of $1,000 to the Manchester Boys and Girls Club, with some of the club members on hand for a ribbon-cutting at 11:30 a.m. Ronald McDonald will make a visit, as will several members of the Manchester Monarchs and their mascot, Max.

The event will also be marked by a number of promotions and raffles. "We are very proud of our relationship with the Ronald McDonald House Charities," Evans said, "and will be doing things to support that charity financially."

Evans is also proud of Manchester's role in creating what is now a global fast-food empire. Many of the historic artifacts that graced the walls of the old building are being carried over to the new one.

A waist-to-ceiling high panel features images of older franchise buildings, signs and Speedee, the original McDonald's mascot, while a commemorative plaque placed prominently in the service area dedicates the building to the McDonald brothers.

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