They’re loving it: Young couple takes over McDonald’s

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 2, 2004

Ronald McDonald, the Hamburglar , Birdie – all those characters you grew up with under the Golden Arches – why, they’re just members of the Smith family from Tennessee.

Andrew and Betsy Smith are the new owners of McDonalds in Demopolis. They hail from Savannah, Tennessee, but as of a few weeks ago, Demopolis is their new home.

McDonalds has been a part of Betsy’s life since she was four-years-old. “I’ve been running the drive-through since I was in kindergarten,” she said. Her father owns three stores, and her brother owns one in Tennessee.

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Negotiations to buy the franchise from Thomas and Rose Cunningham only took a couple of months. The sale and transition was smooth. “When you have somebody (Thomas) who is so nice to work with like that and it’s a good situation, it’s a lot easier,” Betsy said.

There is a huge potential for their business in Demopolis, she said. “It’s busy all the time. If we can keep the operation running, we see great things happening here.”

All the employees were concerned with the change. “We want to keep everybody. We start out clean. Your record starts over.”

“We try to start fresh with everything,” Andrew said.

Thursday was their first day in charge at the popular fast food business at one of the busiest intersections in town. “I just wish we had a parking lot and a lobby out here to support all the crowd,” Betsy said.

Much as been written in the press about McDonald’s transition to healthier food. Betsy doesn’t see it as a challenge to offer customer quality food. “You make a choice of where you want to eat. If I’m on a diet I can go anywhere. I can come here and order a grilled chicken sandwich or grilled chicken salad.

“If people are on that Atkins Diet, they’ll come in an order their hamburger without the bread. We work around anything like that to get in as many people as we can.”

The new improved Chicken McNuggets with white meat are a hit, she said, and “the salads are excellent.”

The McDonalds initiative is called “Healthy Lifestyles.” There will soon be options for children’s Happy Meals where carrots can be substituted for fries, she said. “They’re really plugged into the whole health movement,” Andrew said. “We’re going to provide whatever the customers want. We’ll adapt to that.”

Having great products is why McDonalds is successful, Betsy said. The menu will soon include chicken strips and a fiesta salad.

The chain has also made a renewed commitment to customer service. Several years the chain had stopped grading its stores. “The operator standards kind of went down,” she said. However, the chain has begun a new R.O.I.P. process (Restaurant Operation Improvement Process, where they again grade the stores. Store owners can often concentrate so much on food quality that they forget customer service. “You have to keep it all in focus.

“…We have a history of all of our stores as A-operations,” she said. The couple will be in the store 12-hour days working on service and cleanliness. “It’s not easy,” Andrew said, to run a chain store – as some people might think, but it’s really rewarding.”

Betsy said she hates to ever see a customer pull out of a drive-through line due to frustration. “I’m going to go out there with my note pad and calculator and take orders.”

The Smiths live just one minute from the store on Lillian Lane.

“I have never been to a town where people are so friendly and outgoing,” Betsy said. “We went to the cleaners one day, and he (the owner) called us after work, took us to dinner. The next day at lunch a CPA was there. He set down with us, didn’t know us and paid for our lunch. People call us everyday.

“They go above and beyond,” Andrew said. “I’ve never met people like that.” “It is such a receptive town,” Betsy said. “It’s so nice. It helps with the transition so much. They’re supportive, and they want us to succeed.”

The Smiths want to be part of the community. “We come from a small town too – about the same size as Demopolis,” she said. “We want to take an active role.”

In their few hours of spare time, Andrew admitted that he likes to play golf. He’s already discovered the Ravine Golf Course.