NORTH ADAMS, Mass. (AP) — Alfred Caproni started cooking hamburgers for McDonald’s four years before the invention of the Big Mac.
Caproni, 73, is still flipping burgers, and this week, he celebrated his 50th anniversary with the fast-food chain.
“Can you imagine how many thousands of burgers I’ve cooked and wrapped?” he told The Eagle on Thursday. “And I’ve never taken a leave of absence.”
Caproni held up his hand and pointed to an incision and stitches at the base of his palm.
“I have cooked so many burgers, I got carpal tunnel,” he said, laughing. “I’m getting the other one done soon.”
For Caproni, spending that much time working at the same restaurant has given him a boatload of long-term friends, as well as a wife — a marriage that resulted in two more generations of Capronis.
He started working at the Pittsfield store in 1968. In May 1969, he was on hand for the opening of the North Adams eatery. And he was there in 1988, when it moved into the newly built restaurant on Union Street.
Caproni remembers when McDonald’s was the only place for teens to hang around on weekend nights in the 1970s.
“There used to be crowds of people standing around under the sign outside,” he recalled. “I used to have to throw some of them out of the store for being too rowdy. Some of them still come in, say ‘Hey Al! Remember when you threw me out?’ ”
Shortly after opening day in North Adams, a young woman came in looking for a job. Caproni, the night manager, hired her and married her two years later. Mary Ann Caproni later became a teacher for 32 years.
“She walked in the door and I hired her on the spot,” Caproni said. “Then in June I asked her out.”
“And I knew that if we went out on a second date, I’d marry him,” Mary Ann Caproni recalled.
Today, the couple lives on a farm in North Adams, and the families of their grown children live in houses on either side of their family home.
“It’s nice to have everyone so close,” Caproni said.
He never left, because the working environment “has been really fun,” but that might be because fun just seems to follow Caproni wherever he goes.
Lots at McDonald’s have changed in 50 years, including the addition of a breakfast menu in 1972. The packaging has evolved significantly, as have the uniforms and technologies.
But a lot also has stayed the same, at least for the North Adams location.
“People I’ve known all of my life come into the store, say ‘Hi’ every morning,” he said. “Some of them I’ve known for 30 or 40 years. I’ve always had a good attitude. The managers have said that when I walk through that door, the atmosphere feels more upbeat.”
Today, as swing manager working from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Caproni will regularly see a customer he hasn’t seen in decades.
“They’ll say, ‘Al! You still working here?’ It happens all the time,” Caproni said, adding that he looks forward to these daily interactions.
As for retirement, Caproni has no intention of ending his work life.
“All in all, it’s been fun,” he said. “I feel like it keeps me young.”