Monday, May 4, 2015

I finally visited the unofficial McDonald's museum - I mean historic site - in San Bernardino

The Inland Empire has been a hotbed of fast food innovation - Glen Bell alone is directly or indirectly linked to Taco Bell, Baker's, Del Taco (and Naugles), and Der Weinerschnitzel. But the unquestioned leader in the fast food industry was started by two brothers in San Bernardino, California named McDonald.

There is a museum on the site of the original San Bernardino McDonalds. I finally got to visit the museum over the weekend.

The museum is an unofficial museum, not operated or sanctioned by the McDonald's Corporation.

And there's a very good reason for that.

The story of Ray Kroc and McDonald's is well known. In a 2008 post, I linked to a comprehensive story of the rise and fall of the Kroc-McDonald relationship. Briefly, an Illinois milk machine salesman went out to faraway San Bernardino, California in 1954 to try to figure out how a single fast food outlet had the need to buy eight of his machines. Since each machine could make five milkshakes simultaneously, these McDonald brothers were obviously generating huge business with whatever they were doing.

Kroc, excited by what he saw, worked out a deal with the brothers and sold franchises on their behalf. Within a few years, however, Kroc determined that he needed to buy the entire company from the brothers outright.

He bought most of the business...but not all of it.

Kroc became quite frustrated at the closing table when the brothers did not transfer any real estate and rights to the original unit to him as they had discussed earlier of giving the entire operations, property and everything to the founding employees.

So Kroc bought all of McDonald's...except for the original McDonald's. Thus began "McFeud," in which Kroc forced the brothers to change the name of the original restaurant at 14th and E...and built an official McDonald's just one block north, at 15th and E.

According to a handout from the museum, the "Big M" was sold in 1968 when the McDonald brothers retired. The buyer was Neal Baker, a friend of the aforementioned Glen Bell. Eventually that restaurant and the "official" McDonald's both closed and McDonald's San Bernardino origins were not visible...until Albert Okura stepped in. Okura is yet another Inland Empire fast food founder, having started the Juan Pollo chain in 1984. Like any successful fast food chain founder, he knows that consistency is essential.

Many in the restaurant industry do not fully understand the demand for perfection. For example: If you score 90% on school tests, you receive an “A” on your report card. In fast food, if you get 90% of orders correct, that means 1 out of 10 customers might have a problem and chances are your restaurant is in trouble.

Okura needed office space for his chain, and he found a building at 1398 E St...a building that was on the site of the original McDonald's. So part of the building is office space, part is the McDonald's museum...and one small room is devoted to a Juan Pollo museum.

Oh, and Okura also bought a city.