In 1976, Keith Allen began his career as a McDonald’s crew member for Herman Petty, the first African American McDonald’s owner-operator. Allen earned $2.20 an hour at the 65th and Stony Island restaurant.
“I was picking up the parking lot, working french fries, register, grill … You name it, I did it,” Allen beams, still proud of his work ethic.
That work ethic has paid off. Allen steadily climbed the corporate ladder, from crew member to swing manager, then assistant manager of a McDonald’s store in downtown Chicago and, finally, an area supervisor for Petty, with four locations under his charge.
One fine day in 1988, a field operations manager inspired the then-27-year-old supervisor to take his career even further.
“A McDonald’s field consultant told me, ‘You would make a good owner-operator,’” Allen recalls. “And sure enough, that sparked my interest. I applied that January and, that May, I was off to my first store.”
The path from supervisor to ownership was a natural fit for Allen. “Owner/Operators go through the same training as a manager would, from basic shift management, all the way to Hamburger University.”
Today, Allen is the owner-operator of five McDonald’s stores, including the 65th and Stony Island location where he began as a crew member.
The full circle of success didn’t come easily for Allen. There was always the temptation to kick it with the guys. But Petty taught him better than that. He nurtured his crew and expected them to be responsible. Allen, also a proud member and training manager of the Black McDonald’s Operators Association, instills his work ethic in workers — and the talent pool is widening.
On this rainy afternoon, Allen’s Stony Island location is flooded with neighborhood job seekers, many of whom are impeccably dressed in interview attire. Allen is flanked by hope in action, as every seat around him is filled with job applicants.
And he’s pleased. “It’s great to see that they strongly believe in McDonald’s, not that they just want to eat in McDonald’s, but they feel that they want to work here,” Allen says thoughtfully. “Back when I was going to work, I was teased, ‘Oh, you gotta go flip burgers.’”
Responsibility kept him on the right path and enriched his life, Allen adds. “I couldn’t hang out all night because I had to go to work. It kept me out of trouble … It allowed me to escape the neighborhood and some of the problems. It allowed me, eventually, to get off the bus.”
Thanks to National Hiring Day, many McDonald’s owner-operators will offer the same life-changing opportunities to others.
“I worked for Herman Petty for 12 years, and, through his leadership and with folks mentoring me, that created the knowledge,” Allen states. “I mentor, and I’ve also developed people from crew into management. It’s ‘reach one, teach one,’ and it’s an ongoing process.” –zondra hughes
Photos by Bernard Williams