FOOD: The Burger That Conquered the Country

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One reason for the enthusiasm may be that McDonald's employees who work hard can go high quickly in the expanding business. President Turner started frying hamburgers at Kroc's first franchise near Chicago in 1956. He rose so rapidly as an "operations man," keeping an eye on new stores, that he never had time to claim the license that Kroc promised him. McDonald's also pays close attention to suggestions from behind the counter. Several of the chain's new products have originated in the minds of low-ranking employees. Among them: Egg McMuffin, a 63¢ breakfast item made from fried egg, melted cheddar cheese and a slice of Canadian bacon, all on an English muffin.

McDonald's has had some stumbles. It has expanded overseas with all the zeal of missionaries bringing hamburgers to the heathen.* "We are educating people to a whole new way of life—eating with your fingers instead of forks," says Rolf Kreiner, who directs McDonald's advertising in West Germany. Still, McDonald's European branches lost $1,000,000 last year, partly because too many were located in suburbs, which are not flourishing overseas quite as much as in the U.S. The company is now shifting abroad to downtown locations, where it is drawing big crowds of both foreign nationals and tourists eager for a taste of home. One American girl, stopping at the Paris McDonald's on the Champs-Elysées, explains: "Over here you're supposed to try new things. So I tried the Big Mac."

Some problems loom at home too. Continued growth of the fast-food industry seems almost assured for several reasons: Americans are spending more time in their cars, and 44% of the nation's women hold paid jobs, giving them more money to eat out and less time to cook at home. But the industry has long been overcrowded; Minnie Pearl's Chicken Systems, Joe Namath's Broadway Joe's and a number of other chains all fell on hard times as competitors proliferated. McDonald's will have to scramble harder and harder to stay ahead of the pack. At present, a McDonald's outlet requires a population base of 30,000 to support it in the style to which Ray Kroc is accustomed. The company has already exploited many of the best locations.

Show Tune. Kroc nevertheless foresees ever greater expansion. One bright hope is, paradoxically, a return to the city. Swallowing such old fears as crime and high real estate costs, McDonald's has begun opening dozens of downtown outlets—and all pull in high revenues. Another possibility is what Kroc calls "internal growth," that is, wringing more sales out of each outlet.

The chairman intends to stick around to oversee that growth too. His undiminished vigor is evident to anyone visiting Oak Brook headquarters where the offices are open cubicles and Kroc's shouting rings through them all (executives who need some peace and quiet retire to an elaborate "think tank" equipped with a 700-gal. waterbed).

Kroc has a personal fortune estimated at $500 million, and he marked his 70th birthday by giving away $9,000,000 worth of McDonald's stock to employees and another $7,500,000 to Chicago-area charities. Still, he wants more. "I expect money like you walk into a room and turn on a light switch or a faucet," he says. "It's not enough."

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