After three decades of running McDonald’s franchises, Paula Wright says that yes, she still eats – and loves – the food, especially the grilled chicken wrap or double cheeseburger. Wright and her late husband Don were the first African Americans to open up a McDonald’s franchise in New England. She remembers the early days, when the learning curve was steep and she needed to pitch in, manning the drive-through and mopping the floors. Today, Wright owns eight McDonald’s restaurants in the Boston suburbs as well as four U.S. 90 turnpike travel plazas that are each anchored by a McDonald’s restaurant. The crowded plazas also include Auntie Anne’s pretzels, Honey Dew Donuts, Original Pizza of Boston and Fresh City shops, also run by Wright, who provides jobs for 1,000 people within her enterprise, a holding company called D&P Associates (Donald and Paula). Wright spoke with Globe correspondent Cindy Atoji Keene about the day-to-day operations of the restaurants.
“McDonald’s is different than some other quick service restaurants. As an owner-operator, I need to be totally involved and 100 percent committed to the business. Franchise owners need to earn a ‘Hamburgerology’ degree from Hamburger University, which emphasizes consistent restaurant operations. Every single procedure needs to be learned, from cleaning the tables to handling customer complaints. Even to this day, I can step in and make a shake at the right consistency or cook up fries, although I’ll never be as fast as kids are now.
Our restaurant chain has been recognized as one of the top franchise enterprises, and I think it’s because we care about our employees – they’re like family to us, and that makes a big difference. Some of them started as crew kids, then became supervisors and eventually store managers; others didn’t stay with us but became professionals in other fields.
Operating McDonald’s was a second career for me; I was a corporate executive but wanted to try something different. We looked at different franchises and saw that the training, brand and the success rate were high. Our first McDonald’s in downtown Boston closed down but we’ve come such a long way from that. That was an important lesson that stresses the importance of knowing and understanding the business location and forecast.
I don’t have a lot of downtime, because I’m board chair for Ronald McDonald House of Eastern New England and spend a lot of my “non-McDonald’s” time working to enrich the lives of other African-Americans through charities. I don’t necessarily see myself as a role model for people of color but definitely when we first started, there were not very many of us in the McDonalds management here in the Boston area.