How The Burger And Shake Came To Be Our "Break Today"


Springboro's Guy Pasvogel, published author, shares his thoughts

SPRINGBORO, OH -- Last night, while watching NFL Football, I was bombarded by ads promoting fast foods. I watched Subway, Wendy’s, Arby’s and Papa John’s toting their menu and tempting us to call DoorDash for burgers, fries, subs, and pizza. When we see food parading in front of us, our saliva glands kick into gear, teasing our brain to THINK we are hungry.

Whatever happened to the evening dinner that dear old Mom would prepare for us kids? While eating, we would talk about the events that occurred that day. The conversation would allow us to digest our food without gulping it down in front of the TV set. (I could talk about TV dinners, but that’s another article).

Nowadays, it is so much easier to go to the drive-thru and pick up fast food. Evening conversation at the dinner table has been replaced with gobbling up a burger or sub while checking our iPhones for text messages.

Today’s Mom has been taken out of the kitchen and into the workforce to help pay the bills. Dear old Dad who is working late at the office can pick up a fast food fix on the way home for the whole family, while Mom's on a time crunch getting the kids to soccer practice or school activities.

Who has time for making a home cooked family meal anymore?

Back in 1954, there was an entrepreneur living in my home town of Arlington Heights, Illinois that saw an opportunity to revolutionize the restaurant industry. His name was Ray Kroc, a milkshake salesman who sold eight milkshake mixers to Richard and Maurice MacDonald of San Bernardino, California.

Kroc was impressed with the concept of their restaurant which featured the “Speedee Service System.” The system featured a limited menu of 15 cent hamburgers, french fries and milkshakes. The brothers had sold fourteen franchises, ten of which became operating restaurants, in California. 

Kroc convinced the McDonald brothers to let him become their franchising agent in areas outside of California and Arizona.

On April 16th, 1955, Kroc opened up the first McDonald’s restaurant east of the Mississippi in Des Plaines, Illinois. I was a seven year old kid at the time and my family was one of his first customers. That one restaurant became so successful that Kroc decided to sell franchises to other investors in the Chicagoland area. He also needed money to eventually buy out the McDonald brothers.

One of my high school buddies told me a story of how his dad was approached by Kroc about investing in this new concept of fast foods. They were golfing friends at Rolling Green Country Club in Arlington Heights. He turned Kroc down.

Kroc finally gathered enough investment money to fulfill his dream. In 1961, for the sum of $2.5 million dollars and paying $1 million dollars each to the McDonald brothers, Kroc became the sole owner of the McDonald’s brand.

The unique architecture of two Golden Arches and a drive-thru window presented a quick fix to preparing a dinner at home after a long day at the office. The french fries and milkshakes were to die for!

Other restaurants sprang up in Chicago and the suburbs trying to copy the success of McDonald’s. There was Burger King, Burger Chef, Henry’s, and Cock Robin. None could surpass the products that McDonald’s offered.

When I was 12 years old, I would ride my bike to a restaurant called “The Golden Point” in Mt. Prospect. The building was shaped like, well, a “Golden Point” to play upon the Golden Arches of McDonald’s. The food was good, but not up to McDonald’s standards.

After turning 16 and getting my driver’s license, we would drive three miles down Northwest Highway to do a “Mac Lap.” A "Mac Lap" consisted of driving around the parking lot of McDonald’s scoping for girls or our friends. Food was cheap, and it became a social gathering spot for us Arlington High School students.

Ray Kroc’s recipe for success was to sign leases and procur mortgages for both land and building, passing these costs on to the franchisee with a 20-40% markup and a reduced franchise fee of $950. 

That was a stroke of genius, as McDonald’ real estate holdings today represent 37.7 billion on its balance sheet, 90% of the company’s assets and 35% of its annual gross revenue. Today there are 14,027 McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. and 40,000 restaurants worldwide in more than 100 countries. The company’s net profit for 2022 was 24 billion dollars. That’s a lot of burgers!

Ray Kroc died in San Diego, California in 1984. He had channeled his profits from McDonald’s to buy the San Diego Padres in 1974. Upon his death, his widow Joan Kroc sold the Padres and devoted the rest of her life and his legacy to charitable endeavors. 

Upon her death in 2003, over $2.6 billion dollars was left to charity.

The next time you go out for a burger and fries, you have Ray Kroc to thank for “shaking up” the restaurant industry. Mom will thank you for getting her out of the kitchen for a night!

Like the commercial says…”You deserve a break today. So get out and get away…to McDonalds.”

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