The First McDonalds
Most people know the story of Ray Croc, the man pretty much responsible for McDonalds global impact on our fast food habits. Of how his interest was aroused when he saw that a small restaurant in California had purchased eight of the multi-mixers he was then selling. Croc bought out the owners in the post-War period and copied their format all over, firstly, the States, then the world.
But go back a short while before Croc stepped in, and we will find something remarkably similar to the burger havens most of us visit today.
Richard and Maurice McDonald were brothers from New England. During the Depression, they had headed West, settling in California where they established their burger brand. At the beginning, things were fairly standard. The brothers set up a Drive-in near Pasadena and quickly moved on to a larger base in San Bernardino, which was close to the end of Route 66. They did well, but there were no hints at this stage of the success that was to follow.
THE BIG IDEA
Drive-ins were all the rage at the time, and so it was a huge risk that the brothers took in 1948. They closed their business for three months, re-branded their stock and tried their big idea. Instead of food being brought to the car, what if the customer came for the food? Today,we drive up to the window today to order our Big Mac (or healthier option), seventy years ago customers were also asked to collect it themselves.
It was a disaster.
Young people simply didn’t want the hassle, and since they were the key consumers of fast food in its early days, sales fell terribly. But the brothers didn’t panic. They began to notice a change in their clientele. No longer were teens their main customers, but families increasingly replaced them. Before long, the McDonald brothers were overwhelmed by demand for their food.
AHEAD OF ITS TIME
So, how to cope? These inventive brothers were to come up with yet another idea that would change the industry. Standardization. Working with a local machine shop, they created the tools to speed up their production. Like a mini factory, special equipment allowed them to prepare 28 buns at a time, whilst other innovations would deliver the exact amount of ketchup and mustard. They came up with the idea of specialization so each of their staff had a particular job to do in the preparation of their food. Suddenly, McDonalds could cope with the extra demand.
As their fame grew locally, they expanded, opening other diners that followed their recipes exactly – something Ray Croc would take to even greater dimensions in a few years. (Apparently, he even dictated the number of seeds on a sesame bun – 178 for anybody who wanted to count).
Just before Croc bought the name and concept, the brothers were making a profit of $100000 annually (close to a million in today’s money). It took the food mixer salesman’s genius to turn the brand into something to be found in over 60% of the world’s nations, but he had a pretty impressive base from which to start.