McDonald's 1825 S MACARTHUR 1961

Grand opening, Springfield’s second McDonald’s restaurant, 1825 S.MacArthur, 1961. Lithuanian-born John Mack, Sr., at right edge.  This famous teen hang-out of the 1960s-80s closed in 2017.

On August 29, the State Journal-Register published the piece (below) reporting the Lithuanian history of our Springfield McDonald’s restaurants.  Many thanks to writer Jay Kitterman, director of the Culinary Institute at Lincoln Land Community College–and also to my friend Judy Jozaitis, a VP for workforce education at LLCC who connected Jay with pertinent posts on this blog.  Thanks, also, to the current franchisee, Rick McGraw, for graciously acknowledging his business’ Mack / Makarauskas history. 

Epicuriosity 101: McDonald’s has long history in Springfield, new ideas on the way

Have you ever worked at McDonald’s or a “fast food” restaurant?

I always told my hospitality students at Lincoln Land Community College that the skills they learn would serve them well, no matter what they did in the future. More than 20 million Americans, including probably one of the richest Americans, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (grill man), have earned their first paycheck at McDonald’s.

In today’s multi-tasking world, the ability to listen to one order while filling the prior order and delivering/cashiering the order prior to that one, takes a special person. You soon learn that customers (now often called guests) can be difficult and even unreasonable. I always shared with my employees in the restaurants and hotels that I managed that “the customer may not always be right, but they are still the customer and the reason we were there. Do a good job and you will be rewarded — with a harder job” (which is true of careers everywhere).

This month’s article will be about McDonald’s, Springfield McDonald’s history, and the changes that are coming.

Makarauskas.family.1922

The  Makarauskas family’s first day together in Springfield, 1922. Front row l to r: sons Michael and John. Back row, l to r: Stanley and Agnes Makarauskas, Agnes’s uncle.

Springfield’s Lithuanian historian, Sandy Baksys, details the beginnings of McDonald’s restaurants in Springfield. Springfield’s first McDonald’s franchisee was the aptly named John Mack (Makarauskas) Sr., who was born in Lithuania in 1912. He was a coal miner before operating Mack’s Food Store at 1501 Keys Ave. In 1957, John Sr. and his wife Mary (Gidus) Mack had the foresight to make the leap from their corner grocery to the brave, new world of fast food.

Sandy Baksys writes that after a personal phone call from Ray Kroc and having been turned down by many banks, a $100,000 loan for the Macks from Illinois National Bank finally came through. John and Mary opened their first restaurant on South Sixth Street at the perfect location: just outside the gates of construction machinery factory Allis Chalmers, where two shifts a day of hungry workers could appreciate a 15-cent burger with 10-cent fries.

At the peak of their empire, the Macks were exclusive franchisees of eight McDonald’s all over Springfield. John Sr. died in 1974, and the Mack family got out of the burger business in 1989. The Mack family, in particular Mary Mack, wife of John Mack Sr., was responsible for creation of Springfield’s Ronald McDonald House, following the death of her nephew, Robert Mack, of brain cancer at age 18.

I recently met with Rick McGraw and his family, one of the Springfield area franchisees, about what is new at McDonald’s and what we can expect in the near future. First, a little about Rick. He started his McDonald’s career as a “crew kid” in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1968. He met his wife, Dona, (the day I visited she was busy approving bills) in Wisconsin. He worked his way up and McDonald’s helped finance them to open up his first franchise in Litchfield in 1978.

Over the next 10 years, Rick and Dona McGraw opened up stores in central Illinois and in 1989, purchased the Springfield franchise from the Mack family. They have successfully expanded and now are hoteliers and franchisees of Nancy’s Pizza restaurants. Daughter Christa McGraw heads up the Nancy’s part of the company (along with responsibilities with the hotels), with locations in Springfield and Litchfield. Their other daughter, Jenna, is responsible for their hotel operations. Loyalty and family are primary concepts to Rick and Dona. A number of their employees/managers have been with them for many years. Rick beams when he says, “Nothing is better than working with my kids,” and considers himself very lucky.

Son Mike McGraw now heads up the McDonald’s part of their company. Mike grew up working as a crew member, eventually managed his own store and now is an owner/operator. Mike provided me information on the big changes coming to your local McDonald’s.

The changes are reflective of a new restaurant model that has been successfully rolled out in more than 2,600 international McDonald’s restaurants and puts choice and control in the hands of guests by evolving how they order, what they order, how they pay and how they are served.

For those looking to order at their own pace, McDonald’s digital self-order kiosks will make ordering and paying for a meal easy. Among McDonald’s new menu options are Signature Crafted recipes, where customers can order 100 percent beef or juicy grilled or crispy chicken, picking an artisan roll or sesame seed bun, and choosing from one of three new signature crafted recipes – Signature Sriracha, Pico Guacamole or Sweet BBQ Bacon.

Guests’ orders will be delivered to tables by McDonald’s crew members. Serving families has always been central to McDonald’s and this one change should make a big difference for families with young kids. This would have been very helpful when Carol and I were traveling with our children and at the last minute realized we had forgotten to bring enough napkins or ketchup to the table.

Additionally, this past spring, McDonald’s announced that by mid-2018, it will serve fresh beef, prepared when ordered, in all Quarter Pounder burgers across the majority of its restaurants. Other recent changes are:

• In 2015, the company announced a number of changes as to how it serves and sources its food by offering All-Day Breakfast, committing to only sourcing cage-free eggs by 2025, and committing to only serve chicken not treated with antibiotics.

• Last year, the company removed artificial preservatives from several menu items, including Chicken McNuggets and eliminated high fructose corn syrup from the buns used on Big Macs, Quarter Pounders, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, Filet-O-Fish and McChicken sandwiches.

There is a new look coming to McDonald’s stores. Their store located at Toronto Road and Interstate 55 was recently remodeled with the new décor package. I would call it a more “adult” design. The seating is no longer all bolted to the floor; there is new lighting and high top tables.

Locally, Mike informed me kiosks will come over the next couple of years and their Sixth Street location is scheduled to be their first. Table service has been rolled out at their Sixth Street restaurant and the Monroe Street restaurant, and they will roll out more next year. The introduction of fresh meat is also planned for next year.

My thanks to Rick, Dona and their family for all they have contributed to our community over the years. For Rick, next year will be his 50th year of being associated with McDonald’s.

For this month’s recipe I found the web site TopSecretRecipes.com and chose one of my annual favorites.

Shamrock Shake

Makes 2 servings

2 cups vanilla ice cream

1 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon mint extract (not peppermint)

8 drops green food coloring

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed. Pour into two 12-ounce cups and add whipped cream and a cherry.

“If you work just for money, you’ll never make it, but if you love what you’re doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours.” Ray Kroc, McDonald’s founder

Want to know more?

Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in culinary arts, hospitality management, baking/pastry, and value added local food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute.

Information: bit.ly/Culinary_LLCC

Questions? Email epicuriosity101@llcc.edu.

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