Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s – The story is part of American business lore.
The Making of McDonald’s – That fateful day in 1954 when Ray Kroc, a 52-year-old Mixmaster salesman paid a visit to a San Bernardino, California hamburger stand to find out why its proprietors, brothers Mac and Dick McDonald, bought not one, but several of those Mixmasters and were asking for more. What he found out was a revolutionary way to prepare and serve hamburgers, fries and milkshakes from the kitchen to the customer in 30 seconds, and was attracting a steady flock of customers every day. It was a new food service phenomenon called “fast food” and Ray Kroc wanted a part of it.
So the following year, Kroc opened up his first restaurant under the McDonald’s golden arches in a Chicago suburb called Des Plaines using the McDonald brothers’ high standards for food preparation and restaurant cleanliness. More than 60 years later, those golden arches has sold billions of hamburgers around the world, and its trademark sandwiches like the Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, Egg McMuffin – and yes, even the McRib – have become a major part of popular culture ever since.
The story of Ray Kroc and how he turned this hamburger stand into a major American gastronomic business success is indeed a fascinating one and was even the subject a major motion picture biopic that was released earlier this year called “The Founder”, which starred Michael Keaton as Kroc. The movie, in turn, was in part based on Kroc’s 1977 memoir Grinding It Out, which has been reissued in paperback to coincide with the release of “The Founder”.
The book – which offered the first behind-the-scenes account of the history of McDonald’s – is a story of how Kroc did indeed grind it out to become a business success; and through a lot of grit, determination and hard work, he made a success for himself no matter what venture he undertook, whether it be a top paper cup salesman for the Lily Tulip paper cup company during the height of the Great Depression, selling multi-spindled Mixmaster machines to drive-in restaurants across the U.S., and yes, taking a humble hamburger stand and making it grow many times over by selling McDonald’s franchises to some of the most unlikely of fast food restaurateurs.
While the first half of the book basically echoes the story that is told in “The Founder”, Kroc offers plenty of behind the arches stories to what made McDonald’s such a phenomenal success, although it wasn’t always the case during its formative years throughout the 50s and early 60s.
He duly credits some of the people that worked closely with him at his Chicago head office that helped plant the seeds of McDonald’s success as a chain of fast food restaurants, such as Harry Sonneborn, who urged Kroc to be more of a landlord and rent the land to franchisees that would the site of their future restaurants, and Fred Turner, Kroc’s protégée at the Des Plaines store who led McDonald’s to even greater growth after he assumed control of the company in the early 70s. Then there’s those franchisees who convinced Kroc to introduce new sandwiches to McDonald’s menu (including the Cincinnati franchisee who introduced a new sandwich to cater to the mainly Catholic clientele who resided in the neighbourhood where his restaurant was located; the sandwich was the “Filet-O-Fish”, and it was officially introduced after a friendly competition with Kroc to see if his sandwich would sell more than Kroc’s proposed “Hula Burger” in the space of a single weekend … guess who won?). And then there’s the rather bizarre, yet funny moment in 1974 during the home opener for the San Diego Padres shortly after Kroc bought the team, in which he took to the mic early in the game after the Padres were turning in a rather less than stellar performance on the field, and went on an angry tirade, in which he not only tore a strip off the team, but also apologized to the fans for the poor spectacle they were witnessing.
Although John Love’s book McDonald’s: Behind the Arches offers a more thorough and critical look at Kroc and the history of McDonald’s, Grinding It Out is still quite an entertaining business book about an enterprising individual who worked hard and paid his dues, as he used those old-fashioned principles while he created an empire built on burgers.