With its iconic golden arches, it’s easy to spot Ray Kroc’s McDonald’s Restaurants. Since 1955 the patriarch of that all-American fast-food restaurant has served burgers and fries to millions around the world.
Some would say Jeff Smith is the Ray Kroc of Anoka County. After all, Smith owns 10 McDonald’s – eight of them in Anoka County – and he’s about to open another.
Smith’s newest McDonald’s opens July 17 at the intersection of Hanson Boulevard and Highway 10 in Coon Rapids.
It’s the latest in Smith’s life-long love affair with the fast food restaurant that began back in 1967 when the Blaine teenager was a 16-year-old crew member at the Columbia Heights McDonald’s.
He loved his job flipping burgers and making fries – and he loved it even more when a cute girl walked in and smiled at him.
That girl would later become his wife and together Jeff and Linda would have three children and introduce them to the McDonald’s mantra, “Quality, service, cleanliness, and value.”
Along the way, Smith purchased the Columbia Heights McDonald’s, three or four in Coon Rapids, one in New Brighton, and one at Lake Street and Second Avenue, Minneapolis, too.
Meanwhile, Smith’s three children each spent some years working at their dad’s restaurants. Today one of them is new owner of her own McDonald’s (the one in Fridley) and another takes care of security systems, speaker systems, credit card machines and all kinds of other technology needs at the Smith McDonald’s.
Smith would say McDonald’s is family.
“All my kids have worked here – two of them do again – and I have two, sometimes three generations of the same family working for me. Most of my managers have been with us up to 20 years, a lot of them started as crew members when they were in high school. And, of course, customers come back again and again over the years so I have a couple generations of customers, too,” Smith said.
Smith’s daughter, Melissa Kennedy (new owner of the Fridley McDonald’s), also calls McDonald’s “family.”
“McDonald’s has always been a big part of my life – it was my dad’s career, it was my first job, I had friends that worked there and managers that became family,” she said.
Smith’s son Jason and daughter Heather both echo their sister’s familial love of McDonald’s.
“Knowing that I’m part of a family of people who all care about the job as much as I do makes it a rewarding one,” Jason said. “My dad, sister, and the supervisors are always there for me if I need advice, opinions, concerns, or just a laugh. Most anyone I see at the stores can get me those things if I ask, so it does feel like a McDonald’s family,” Jason said.
Heather feels much the same way.
“I started working at McDonald’s at a very young age (14) and strongly believe it’s important for my children to do the same,” she said, adding that she hopes to rejoin the family business when her own children are older.
And now, with the opening of the new Coon Rapids McDonald’s, Smith’s family extends even further as he hires a few dozen crew members and managers to run the place.
“You know, I’ve always loved McDonald’s. I loved it as a crew person. I loved it as a manager. I love it as owner. I can’t remember a day when I regretted going to work. It’s time consuming and stressful at times, but it’s a wonderful job and I’m one of the luckiest people I know because I get to go to work at a place I love everyday. These people are like family,” Smith said.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]