Local Boy Makes Good, Does Some Bad: "The Founder"

To rise in any business, you're going to get your hands dirty

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By David Hammond

"The Founder," a movie about Oak Parker Ray Kroc and the building of his McDonald's empire, seems unlikely to be very successful. Even on a Friday night, the seats in the audience at the Lake Theater were perhaps 20% occupied. A movie like this, a movie about a salesman and his business, is a hard sell. We enjoyed it a great deal, but part of that enjoyment was due, in part, to the fact that I've been doing contract writing for McDonald's since 1985. I remain in awe of Kroc and his accomplishments, but I rather suspect that most theater-goers will not share my enthusiasm for the "founder" of the world's best known fast food chain. 

Kroc bought the McDonald's "Speedee Service System" of preparing and selling hamburgers from brothers Dick and Mac McDonald who started the first McDonald's drive-in in San Bernardino, California. So how does Kroc get away with calling himself the founder? He just does. Those are his alternative facts, as is the claim that the Desplaines McDonald's is the #1 McDonald's restaurant, when clearly that honor belongs to the San Bernardino location. You don't get to the top without getting a little dirty.

In the movie, the McDonald brothers are persuaded to let Kroc franchise the business after he gives them a short sermon about how every town in the country has a church with a cross on top and a city hall with a flag in front. McDonald's, he believed, would leverage the American impulse to come together, not in a church or in some civic gathering, but in a restaurant.

Stopping by the River Forest McDonald's on Harlem around 6pm last Friday, it seemed that Kroc's vision of a social meeting place was still a reality. There were large tables of young black and white kids (at separate tables, but still), some older dudes like me, and behind the counter, pretty much all Mexican workers. I had to wonder what the effect of President Trump's tightening immigration policy would have on Mexican workers in fast food as well as higher end restaurants, where Mexicans frequently make up a disproportionate percentage of the kitchen staff.

In line with our president's fixation on things "huge," McDonald's has recently rolled out an ever bigger Big Mac: the Grand Mac. This new burger is basically just a Big Mac, only bigger. My friend Nick Kindelsperger at the Chicago Tribune feels that the Grand Mac is "better proportioned," with perhaps a higher meat-to-condiments/bun ratio. That may be, but both the Big Mac and Grand Mac are remarkably soft sandwiches with very little textural contrast between bread and hamburger. And for the love of god, why can't McDonald's superb cooking technology ever manage to get the cheese melted on their cheeseburgers.

When Michael Keaton, who portrays Ray Kroc, bites into a McDonald's hamburger for the first time, he exclaims, "This is the best hamburger I've ever had." In those early days, McDonald's hamburgers were made of fresh meat, hand-formed, and they were probably pretty good. Now, they're fine, but I don't think many people will proclaim them the best they ever had.

And "The Founder"? It's fine, but I don't think many people will proclaim it the best movie they've ever seen. For me, though, it's still kind of thrilling to see the way local boy Kroc has a vision for something big and wonderful and then makes it happen. Of course, this is no hagiography, and St. Ray does not come across completely clean: he dumped his wife of many years to chase after another man's wife, may have dealt with the McDonald brothers in ways that were less than honorable, and sometimes had to cut corners on quality to keep returning profits to investors. But business heroes are many times full of such character flaws.

Eating my Grand Mac, I was amused to see the tagline, pictured on the box above, "You're going to need two hands." This, of course, seems a "borrow" from Burger King's line from the 70s: "It takes two hands to handle a Whopper 'cuz he burgers are bigger at Burger King."

To rise in any business, now and again, you may have to steal a little; you may have to do some bad in addition to good; you may have to get your hands dirty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: February 3rd, 2017 3:55 PM

Bill - my dad fought on an ancillary front of the Battle of the Bulge. I share your commitment to this country and your belief that Trump is a travesty. Why you feel the need to pool me with Trump supporters, I have no clue. And since this a comment section for a dining column, all I would request is that we have one sacred space - ie. a food column - that introduces us to the dining options in our area as opposed to have to listen to a political sermon.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: February 3rd, 2017 2:22 PM

The only "dog I have in this hunt," Rainy Day, is my love for this country and a deep concern at the direction the new crypto-fascist president and his right wing nut job advisors are taking our foreign and domestic policy. .. A long time ago when I joined the Navy, I solemnly swore to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." Maybe you never bothered serving in the military, Rainy Day, so you wouldn't understand that. Since I am no longer in the military, I do not have any obligation to obey the President or respect his orders, and I most certainly do not. . . BTW, kind of fun playing with each other's name, isn't?

Rani Dawn  

Posted: February 3rd, 2017 11:31 AM

Billy, are you a DNC operative? You sure seem to have a dog in this stunning hunt. In any case, it seems to be coordinated for those who have prominence in their field (and supposed sway) are coming out against Trump. They think that they will influence the masses of sheeple but the sheeple is waking up! We are Ascending, BillyBob! There is a spiritual Awakening happening. All is One. The Elite are not the only ones deserving of the abundance of Creation. Namaste! xD

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: February 3rd, 2017 9:57 AM

See, here's your problem, Ada. I am, by definition, NOT a troll. You and Ray and several others here are, by definition, trolls, i.e., a people who invite argument by posting extraneous, off-topic and often inflammatory messages here. Usually with the intent of disrupting normal, on-topic discussion. . . I only respond to what's posted here. You and Ray and others, on the other hand, go off on babbling tangents every time Ken Trainer or someone else publishes a column you don't like. Your posts seldom have anything to do with any actual point being made by the writer. MY posts are simply meant to respond to your demonstrably trollish posts in as mocking and rebutting a fashion as possible. Btw, and FWIW, I do appreciate the nonsense you post. Responding to it all acts as a good warm up for my daily writing process. So keep trolling, Ada, Ray and "Rainy Day" or whoever you are. Look forward to responding to your nonsense.

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: February 2nd, 2017 9:42 PM

Bill - good for you. You keep being king of the grumpy trolls continuously "enlightening" us that our president is a narcissistic sociopath (just my opinion). I'll continue on with my utter disdain for smug, egocentric and close-minded people...and David can continue writing food articles in a small village newspaper in a manner to live out his glory days as opposed to servicing his community. Great! Think we're all good here.

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: February 1st, 2017 7:54 PM

oh for the love of all - grow thicker skin and a thinner ego. Just looked at your vitae - am I missing something? In the meantime - Wed. Journal can we just add another food writer, who focuses on local eats - say 10 mile radius...it would be a real service to those of us who eat and those who enjoy people eating their food (and getting paid for it). And David, can continue on with his self-focused food culture as well.

David Hammond  

Posted: February 1st, 2017 7:19 PM

Bill, I appreciate the support. Having been a professional writer for around 35 years, I accept ?" in fact, seek ?" sincere criticism but have decided to simply tune out the unhinged and largely uninformed invective that sometimes comes my way. Look forward to talking Nicaragua when you get back.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: February 1st, 2017 5:38 PM

Well if it makes you so tired, Ada, don't argue with me. Pretty simple, dontcha think? Because I don't adjust my posts to conform with your opinions, or what ever it is that you post here.

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: February 1st, 2017 3:31 PM

Bill - you are so off point once again. It is so wearisome even arguing with you. Did you miss the line in my comment, "He has a singular ability to inject commentary while still introducing us to the passion of food." He is brilliant at combining food, life and the struggles of the countries to which he travels. Here's an idea for David, go to some of those places we pass by and don't even think about going to, tell us if the food is good, and give us a story about the people who run the place. Rather than, hey 'went to a documentary on Kroc - oh and Trump is an a@#hat." Big difference.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: February 1st, 2017 10:58 AM

FWIW, this from another Anthony Bourdain interview, Oct 24, 2016, with eater.com. . . Question: ? Our Facebook commenters over the years have started saying, with increased frequency, "I liked this better when it had less politics." . . Bourdain: People will say, "Stick to food, man." Because I'm not what, a professional pundit, my opinion is worthless? I've been traveling the world for 16 years now. I've seen a lot of shit. . . . I have an opinion. I'm not gonna tell you who to vote for, but I do notice things and I do have opinions. . .So keep on keeping on, David. Tough if some people don't like it.

David Hammond  

Posted: January 31st, 2017 9:45 PM

Jerry, writing for the McDonald's corporation most definitely made me a believer, and yes, winning can get dirty. I accept that and believe it's a balancing act. That handshake scene, I dunno, might be a little artistic license there, but could be true.

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: January 31st, 2017 9:41 PM

And here comes the ole slippery slope. This whole I've associated with the greats doesn't make your blogs great by association. Hell, I danced the Tango with Bobby Duvall...doesn't make a me a great dancer, or actor. So what does squid cleaning with Tony have to do with non-dining focused, politically charged blogs in a local newsite? It actually only furthers what I suspected to be your MO. Good luck in Mexico.

Jerry Sebesta from oak park  

Posted: January 31st, 2017 9:31 PM

I, like David, saw the Founder at the Lake with a small crowd. I question why David would be in awe of Kroc. Maybe writing for the company make him a believer. I think the movie was the dark side of business. And Kroc did far more than get a little dirty. With the help of his attorneys, a large Chicago firm, he was able to steal the company away from the two Brothers two brothers. . the scene in the movie with the handshake at contract closing was the lowlight of the movie. I think he does more than some dad in your headline.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 31st, 2017 9:17 PM

I'll be happy to talk with you about Nica after I return Feb. 23, David. It's my third time visiting. Prefer it to Panama or Belize. I'm here in Granada mostly to write, but also to avoid Chicago in the worst of winter, to take advantage of inexpensive and excellent healing arts and to enjoy some really excellent and inexpensive food. Ask Ken Trainor for my email.

David Hammond  

Posted: January 31st, 2017 9:01 PM

Bourdain's life is the envy of every food writer in the world. So last year, sharing a few shots of Balvenie with him, I had to ask about the downside of his enviable career. He said, "I miss my family, sometimes; it's a weird life. I spend a lot of time in really nice hotel rooms, looking at fantastic vistas, absolutely alone. But I spent thirty years standing on my feet dunking French fries, cleaning squid in a hot, airless kitchen, without health insurance or any kind of financial stability at all, so? I'm pretty happy. It turned out okay." So the life we all long for is?okay. Bill, I believe I was also once worthy in the Seinfeldian sense, but want to know more about Nicaragua, where I understand you've spent some time (we're considering it as an evacuation zone).

Rani Dawn  

Posted: January 31st, 2017 5:02 PM

Alternative facts exist for those who no longer buy into the fake news. Apparently the fake news has now affected the local news front, where someone writing about food feels obligated (or is being directed?) to bash our new POTUS practically every chance he gets. Keep it up, David. Everytime I read yet another insertion of Trump bashing into yet another story that has nothing to do with him, I am see the WJ as less and less legit, which is a shame. I think one of the most mind-blowing aspects of the whole $hillary Derangement Syndrome is how OFF these people are. They don't realize that they are cementing more and more opposition to their shrill tactics that reek of desperation. Sad!

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: January 31st, 2017 4:48 PM

people this is a frigin' dining column - is there no sacred space - ANYWHERE! Can't we just read eloquent articles about perfectly prepared Hamachi, or the best burger, or ANYTHING dining and food focused. Or does everything have to be " I checked out this new fast food place - oh and Donald Trump is a douchebag." Can we just get an additional food writer who writes about food, and can ya'll take that fight out back?

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 31st, 2017 4:29 PM

"Some vague reference to some recordings you heard"? Get real, Simpson. There's nothing vague about any of the recordings; they were all over the news. Like I said, people of your ilk believe what you want to believe, and I'm not trying to convince you of anything. I post her to challenge your distortions. .

Ray Simpson  

Posted: January 31st, 2017 4:08 PM

@ Dwyer - In response to Ken Trainor's column, where he called President Trump the" Misogynist in chief" I offered 3 reasons why he was wrong. The women in his family, the female executives in his companies and his female campaign manager. A man with a pathological hatred for women would never involve that many women into his life. You countered with a personal opinion "he is a pig" with some vague reference to some recordings you heard. NOT GOOD ENOUGH! Now we read here that President Trump is xenophobic. How can a man who taps a black man for his cabinet, has an orthodox Jew for a son-in-law and deals with people of all color, creeds and religions have a pathological hatred for people who are different? It is not possible. A part of the Hillary campaign strategy was to spend what ever it takes to destroy Donald Trump's reputation. She spent close to a billion dollars and she brainwashed a major part of our country. Many of you cling to the hope you can bring down the president, without any real alternative. The bottom line is that Republicans hold the House, Senate and White House for at least 2 years and your effort would be better spent building some young bright new faces for your party. The current cast of characters look old, tired and immersed in and dedicated to failed policies.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 31st, 2017 2:38 PM

I get people's points, Ray. I just disagree with them. You may perceive that as "tossing stink bombs." I call it refuting unsubstantiated nonsense. Try verifying your own facts before posting, and I guarantee you I won't refute them. But be forewarned, Ray. If you actually start practicing fact checking and truth telling, it's going to become very difficult for you to defend Trump or his cadre of apologists.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: January 31st, 2017 2:12 PM

@ Ada - why is it that almost every response to Dwyer begins with " You're missing the point" I understand he was once a pretty good reporter who liked to verify facts before filing articles. Of late he seems more into tossing stink bombs at anyone who disagrees with him. SAD!!

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: January 31st, 2017 12:17 PM

You're missing the point Bill. It would be nice to have an actual dining column in our local paper. For those of us who like to escape into food and cooking and not be whooped upside the head by everyone's political viewpoint. Just in case you missed Bourdain's post election interview, - http://www.eater.com/2016/12/21/14038332/anthony-bourdain-election-trump-interview

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 31st, 2017 9:32 AM

Right, Barbara J, that's the problem here; the WJ being a prop for selling outrageously expensive real estate to elites. Not, oh say, having an uninformed ignoramus in the White House who's a threat to both our international and domestic security. Glad you cleared that up for us.

Barbara Joan  

Posted: January 31st, 2017 8:00 AM

What's bothering people? The WJ is presented as a local NEWSpaper when in actual it peddles propaganda and is exploiting its readers by not reporting news accurately.and by interjecting unwarranted political opinion at every chance.,.. The WJ is mostly a prop for selling outrageously expensive real estate- to elites--so much for claims of diversity.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 30th, 2017 10:28 PM

David, rest assured you are "follow worthy." (And I note that that is WAY too close to one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes). And what A.J. Tikkanen does not deign to acknowledge is that Tony B. would almost certainly agree with your POV.

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: January 30th, 2017 10:03 PM

David - I'm assuming you are trying to be Anthony Bourdainish is your commentaries - the only difference is Anthony Bourdain is follow worthy. He has a singular ability to inject commentary while still introducing us to the passion of food. Hell, he made a Waffle House look as appealing as a Donnie Madia restaurant. The difference b/n Bourdain and you - is he understands the world doesn't revolve around him, and he feels blessed have the experiences he's been given. You on the other hand spend paragraphs talking about yourself. It is a complete travesty to those of us who love food, the way it is prepared, and what it represents. I am appealing to the Wedn. Journal to have an additional food writer who feels the same way added to the staff. Cooking and eating is not only sustenance - it's an art form - to be appreciated - not to be used as some tool for political windbaggery! Oh - and I'm not a Trump supporter so move to Plan B in your argument David.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 30th, 2017 9:09 PM

What's really bothering Richard? The "he dumped his wife of many years to chase after another man's wife"? Or the "he may have dealt with the (original owners) in ways that were less than honorable." Too close to home for you and your clay-footed hero? Get used to dealing with it, sport. So much more to come.

Richard Stephen  

Posted: January 30th, 2017 7:10 PM

Wow, David, you can't even write a review of a movie about Ray Kroc without injecting some rhetoric about Trump? And your comment about a "disproportionate" number of "Mexicans" working at McDonald's is a such a generalization, I'm shocked a self-styled "progressive" like you would make such a statement!.

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