When my kid was younger, we couldn’t go past a McDonald’s without her crying out for a burger or a happy meal. When driving we would try to distract her, so that she couldn’t see the Golden Arches. After watching actor Michael Keaton portray Ray Kroc in the movie “The Founder,” I now know just how those arches came to be. And if the story is accurate, it’s not a pretty picture—it’s one of deceit, betrayal and ruthless business dealings on the part of Kroc.
Kroc was an ambitious salesman, with his latest offering being a mixer which restaurants would use to make shakes. He happens upon Richard and Maurice McDonald, and they have just ordered five of his machines—much to Kroc’s amazement. Five machines would mean that they could mix 30 shakes at one time. He was curious as to how a restaurant would have such a demand. This ambitious curiosity led to his cut-throat demeanor with the McDonald brothers, after learning their operations and literally stealing the recipe—so to speak—from them. The brothers had it down, all the way to the exact amount of mustard on each burger. No need for utensils, everything was wrapped in paper; there were no dipping sauces or little puffs of fried chicken. In fact, one new franchisee was selling chicken in his restaurant and was ordered to cease and desist. At that time, that wasn’t the McDonald’s brand.
After going back and forth with the brothers and entering into a sort of partnership, Kroc had the brilliant idea to get into real estate and have any new restaurant that came under the franchise be built on his property, thereby allowing him also to take over the McDonald’s name. I hated to see the part in the movie when the brothers were ordered to take the McDonald’s sign down from their restaurant, simply calling their burger joint “M” Burgers. Kroc was eager and demanding that the brothers remove their sign, because he was building a new McDonald’s right across the street.
McDonald’s began in 1940 as a barbeque joint in California, and in 1948, it was presented as a hamburger stand. This was right in the midst of the drive-in restaurants, where customers would pull up in their cars and teens would come out with roller skates on to take and deliver orders. So, the premise of just walking up to a place and ordering food, without the benefit of trays and utensils was a novel one.
In 1955, after Kroc opened up his first spot in Des Plaines, Illinois, the company was known as McDonald’s Corporation. And although the Golden Arches had been a dream of one of the brothers, Kroc was also able to wiggle that concept out of their hands, using it at his first restaurant.
Kroc’s cold ambition didn’t stop just with the restaurants. He was so bent on climbing up the ladder—after having had so many failures—and the day that he told his wife that he wanted a divorce caught her off guard. He simply said it at the dinner table, with no lead up conversation. Just spoke it as casually as he could. However, he divorced his wife, because he had started an affair with the wife of someone in the entertainment and restaurant business. She was behind his idea for powdered milkshakes, while other people weren’t.
Everything about Kroc was geared to his success and the success of one of the world’s biggest restaurant franchises—McDonald’s.
“The Founder” is playing at theaters everywhere.