Back in the 1970s, John Hurt had no way of knowing that his cousin was hooking him up with more than a job flipping burgers at the McDonald’s in Milledgeville, Ga.  “Basically, I needed a part-time job while I was going to college,” he recalls. Today, with 11 Atlanta metro area McDonald’s in Jonesboro, Riverdale, Lithonia and other communities, Hurt has collected the ultimate Monopoly prizes in real estate.

Graduating with a master’s degree in business management from Georgia College in 1979 didn’t make Hurt quit McDonald’s. Instead, he took it even further by graduating from McDonald’s Hamburger University in 1981. “I just got excited about the entrepreneurship opportunities,” he says of his passion for McDonald’s.

Despite his drive, he wouldn’t realize his ownership dreams until 1995. And, even then, he still had sacrifices to make — leaving his wife and kids behind in Atlanta, only seeing them on the weekends, for that first McDonald’s in Selma, Ala. Since his full-time return to Atlanta in 1999, he has been steadily building his own McEmpire.

Not only an owner, Hurt is also the president of the Atlanta Region Black McDonald’s Operator Association. And, this month, he is especially proud of his group.

“This year the Nuggets of Knowledge program — [a signature McDonald’s Black History Month program with quizzes, prizes and coupons] — places a spotlight on African American owners and operators in the greater Atlanta area and the role the black owner and operator plays in stimulating the economy in the greater Atlanta area,” he explains.

“For instance, the black members own and operate over 73 restaurants in the Atlanta area. We employ over 3,500 employees,” he beams. “As a group, our collective experience [totals] over 250 years. And we do give back.”

In fact, giving back is Business 101 for Hurt. On top of supporting the Wheels of Dreams Foundation, BMOA’s nonprofit educating youth, ages 14 to 17, in entrepreneurship, Hurt runs programs like McTeachers Night, which places local teachers behind the counters of his McDonald’s in exchange for 15 percent of all sales for the night.

For Hurt, McDonald’s track record with African Americans is undeniable. After all, Don Thompson, he notes, “is the first African American president and chief executive officer of McDonald’s Corporation, the world’s largest food service company which serves nearly 69 million in 119 countries and employs more than 1.7 million people across the globe.”

More important to Hurt, Thompson doesn’t stand alone: “He is just one of many [African Americans] who hold many positions within McDonald’s Corporation as well as owners and operators and suppliers,” he says. –ronda racha penrice