McDonald’s in Motion

A juicy trifecta is served: Chicagoland, real estate, and a cross-country fast food fight. These are the ingredients of McDonald’s rise. 

If you thought McDonald’s was just a golden-arched destination after a night of carousing or a 300-billion burger selling empire, think again. It’s a greasy tale of hot dog stand beginnings vs. an outsider’s eagerness to expand – all rooted in the buying, selling, and renting of property.

Hollywood’s recent interpretation The Founder stars Michael Keaton as salesman turned “landlord” Ray Kroc. The milkshake man travels from Illinois to California to uncover just who’s buying his machines. Once at the West Coast, Kroc meets the McDonald’s.

While Dick and Mac impress Kroc with their patty assembling system and burgeoning restaurant, his business drive leads to an eclipse of the hamburger brothers. He eventually buys them out, casting Harry J. Sonneborn (BJ Novak) as his franchising right-hand.


“You’re not in the burger business. You’re in the real estate business.” (Sonneborn to Kroc)

The strategy was simple: rent the land and the building for each McDonald’s restaurant. Sublease to hand-picked franchisees at a higher price. Construct the Franchise Realty Corp. to recruit landowners. Eventually, take out mortgages to own both plot and establishment.


Revolutionary success ensued.

From a San Bernardino walk-up to omnipresent arches, McDonald’s undisputedly evolved from progressive real estate. The arches now illuminate interstates, bridge cultures, and satisfy millions.

Today over 36,000 McDonald’s are spread across 100 countries – a majority of them franchisee-operated.


McDonald’s #1 Store Museum | 400 Lee St, Des Plaines, IL

See where it all began at McDonald’s #1 (according to Kroc) in Des Plaines, or stake out 110 N Carpenter St. Oak Brook hands over headquarters to this West Loop address, which could be finished as soon as summer of 2018. We’ll see if construction is as swift as the food that first captured Kroc and millions of Americans’ hearts.



Sources: Curbed; Wall Street Survivor; How Stuff Works; Chicago Tribune

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