MC-Milestone Half a Century Has Passed since Ray Kroc Took His Famous Gamble in the Suburbs and Changed Our Country

By Boykin, Ames | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 15, 2005 | Go to article overview

MC-Milestone Half a Century Has Passed since Ray Kroc Took His Famous Gamble in the Suburbs and Changed Our Country


Boykin, Ames, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Ames Boykin Daily Herald Staff Writer

It's been a half-century since the first Thunderbirds and Imperials pulled up to an odd-looking, red and white striped building framed by two golden arches.

Like two neon biceps, the arches bulged through the slanted roof of a walk-up restaurant at 400 Lee St. in Des Plaines. A winking, bow-tied character with a hamburger for a head named "Speedee" promised quick service and cheap food - 15-cent hamburgers, 10-cent fries, a 10-cent Coca-Cola and 20-cent milkshakes.

It was April 15, 1955, when milkshake machine salesman Ray Kroc of Arlington Heights opened his new venture, partnered with a small, successful chain of hamburger hamlets run by the McDonald brothers in San Bernardino, Calif.

His first day's take: $366.12.

Today, the Golden Arches have become a beacon seen around the world - serving 50 million customers daily at 30,000 restaurants in nearly 120 countries.

To celebrate the golden anniversary of that first venture, Oak Brook-based McDonald's Corp. will open its newest restaurant today on Ohio Street in Chicago. Built at the site of the old Rock 'n' Roll McDonald's, the new eatery is a big departure from the humble hamburger stand that opened in Des Plaines that cold and cloudy Friday.

More reflective of its $40 billion status, it will seat 300, and feature a two-lane drive through.

Its architecture, though, will pay homage to that first stand - except that these arches will tower 60 feet.

Under the arches

Two American dreams collided under the arches on that early spring day 50 years ago.

Kroc - a 52-year-old Oak Park native who mortgaged his home to become the exclusive seller of milkshake machines called Multimixers - was captivated by the speed and efficiency of the hamburger stands his clients Dick and Maurice "Mac" McDonald had made successful.

Eight McDonald's restaurants were operating in California when Kroc opened his first one in Des Plaines. Six years later, in 1961, he would buy out the brothers for $2.7 million.

"I needed the name," Kroc was quoted, explaining why he didn't call his chain something unique.

"How far could I go merchandising 'Kroc's Hamburgers?'" he said. "I needed that McDonald name."

For 15-year-old Danny Zakos, the new McDonald's restaurant in Des Plaines meant a paycheck that helped him provide for his family in Greece.

The morning McDonald's opened, Zakos' manager drove him to work. Zakos, who now lives in Wood Dale, can't recall if he had to miss junior high to make fries that day.

But the choice would have been easy.

"I needed a job bad, so I told him yes," Zakos said. "For me it was exciting and it was a new venture, and 80 cents an hour meant a lot to me."

Zakos, who lived with his aunt and uncle, sent the money to his sister in Greece, who was getting married.

The teenager also became close to Kroc, driving him around on errands once he got his license. Kroc was a particular boss, who instructed his employees to put just a dollop of mustard on the hamburgers to avoid overpowering the ketchup taste, Zakos recalled.

Kroc also would scrub the yellow lines in the parking lot and expected the same from his employees, telling them: "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean."

The two, however, differed in their musical tastes. Zakos liked to flip the radio to the rock 'n' roll station, while Kroc always turned it back to the sound of Perry Como or other crooners.

Years later, his old boss flew Zakos out to attend a ceremony when Kroc bought the San Diego Padres. They lost contact a few years before Kroc died in 1984.

'What about me?'

Nicknamed "Mr. Multimixer" by the McDonald brothers, Kroc first approached them in 1954 about franchising their food.

The McDonald brothers had created a buzz around the shake machines, using eight at their hamburger stand in San Bernardino. …

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