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VOL. 44 | NO. 6 | Friday, February 7, 2020

‘Franchise’ examines link between McDonald’s, race

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

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Your hand is in the bag again. Those french fries you bought aren’t going to make it home. You should’ve bought a double order.

When a craving hits, fast food can save the day. In the new book “Franchise,” author Marcia Chatelain shows how that kind of food once changed neighborhoods.

What did you have for lunch today?

If you’re like a third of your fellow Americans, you ate lunch or some other meal at a fast-food restaurant. It wasn’t always so. A century ago, cooked ground beef was a food for the lower- and working-classes, not for the masses. Eventually, though, the taste of a burger and fries won over just about everyone.

And then came McDonald’s, which, Chatelain says, “has affected the ways Americans eat, play and work.”

The restaurant also affected the Civil Rights movement – and vice versa.

In 1961, after Ray Kroc assumed control of the chain he created, he began flying around the country in search of places to further expand his McDonald’s restaurants. There were already two in the Chicago area, and they were profitable. Though both stores were then owned by white men, one store was run by a black manager; that was fine with Kroc, as long as the place was profitable.

“Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America”

by Marcia Chatelain

c.2020, Liveright

$28.95

336 pages

The idea of a restaurant that served everyone, regardless of race, intrigued African American southerners who were living under Jim Crow laws. Segregation was in effect when McDonald’s moved to their areas, but the Civil Rights movement was coming, along with protests and sit-ins. Kroc tended not to get involved, preferring that franchisees deal with situations on their own.

That was no longer tenable by spring of 1968. White-owned restaurants were an “irritation” in black neighborhoods, and after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, resentment boiled over.

Kroc decided it was best to find black franchisees to assume ownership of such restaurants in those areas. So by the end of that year, Herman Petty of Chicago proudly opened the first black-owned McDonald’s location.

With a sub-title of “The Golden Arches in Black America” on the cover of this book, one might think it would include something about nutrition. It does, but not much and not until the end.

Instead the author uses “Franchise” to focus mostly on a history of the chain itself and its business relationship with the black community.

It’s a 60-year account that’s tasty, but there’s not always a happy story to go along with the Happy Meal. It’s a tale of unknowns who are usually unsung, Chatelain explains, and some are total surprises.

Chatelain also examines oft-told Civil Rights stories as they relate to the McDonald’s chain, showing history from a different spot at the table.

This is not your run-of-the-mill business book, nor is it an everyday history read. It’s actually a little of both, and worth a look. If you’re seeking something to learn and enjoy, “Franchise” has it in the bag.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.

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