Alaska McDonald's employees some of the restaurant's best

Photo/Michael Dinneen/AJOC

A disinterested teenager works a summer restaurant job. It’s a timeless stereotype; and McDonald’s breaks it.

“I think there’s a huge misconception about what you can do in McDonald’s — what sort of career it may or may not be. If you’re willing to put in the hard work, you can do whatever you want,” Michael Davidson said.

Davidson is owner-operator of 19 McDonald’s restaurants in Anchorage, Kodiak and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. He started with McDonald’s out of state as a crewperson in 1978. At the time it was a summer job, but after working his way up he relocated to Alaska in 1994 to begin running McDonald’s locations in Anchorage.

Throughout McDonald’s, nearly 75 percent of store managers begin their careers as crewmembers and about half of owner-operators do, too.

McDonald’s employs approximately 1,900 people in 31 Alaska locations making it one of the 20 largest private employers in the state. Roughly 1,100 of those individuals work in Davidson’s restaurants.

“It’s a great people environment and it’s a great learning experience. The skills you start learning from the beginning will stay with you forever,” Davidson said.

Two of Davidson’s former crewmembers have been recognized for their hard work with companywide awards. Remy Alda and Shawn Potter received the Ray Kroc Award, given annually to McDonald’s top managers in the country. About 1 percent of McDonald’s 14,000-plus managers receive the award, and Alaska has two of them.

“Being a Ray Kroc Awardee is a really big experience for me. I took my husband to Chicago and he’d never been there before. When I was in Chicago I felt very, very special. They treat you like a VIP,” Alda said.

McDonald’s is headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill., just west of downtown Chicago.

Potter concurred with Alda’s description of the trip south.

“The experience was so VIP. They pick you up in a limo at the airport; VIP banquet dinner; you get to meet the CEO of the company. You’re also compensated monetarily for the award, which is nice, so you have some shopping money,” Potter said. “At least my wife had some shopping money.”

Ray Kroc Award winners get an opportunity to speak directly with senior leadership in McDonald’s and express their opinions and ideas about operations in the company, Potter said. Additionally, he said all award recipients have their names etched in glass as part of a Ray Kroc exhibit at the entrance of McDonald’s world headquarters.

Alda and Potter both said the award is an individual recognition, but a team award. They could not have won without the every day support and hard work of their restaurant crews.

Alda has been with McDonald’s since 1994 and began managing the restaurant at the corner of Arctic and Northern Lights in 2001. She won the Ray Kroc Award in 2010.

The Arctic and Northern Lights location opened as Alaska’s first McDonald’s in July of 1970.

Potter won the award in 2005 as manager of McDonald’s Debarr Road location in Anchorage. After time working Outside in the company’s corporate operations, he returned to Alaska and is now an area supervisor for McDonald’s.

“I started working with McDonald’s the day after my 16th birthday, which was in 1990,” Potter said.

Ray Kroc began working with McDonald’s in 1954. He was integral in forming the restaurant chain into the industry giant it is today and is a company icon, according to McDonald’s website.

All of the current assistant managers in Alda’s restaurant are former crewmembers, she said. Several have been with McDonald’s for nearly 20 years.

Part of managing a restaurant is fostering an environment of appreciation. Alda said it’s essential for her employees to feel valued and part of a team. She sets up group birthday parties several times a year and an annual holiday party. She recently took her crew bowling to thank them for their hard work.

Davidson said Alaska presents its own set of challenges to running a chain of franchise restaurants, as it does for most other businesses. He said one of his main challenges is getting McDonald’s corporate management to understand Alaska’s differences versus the contiguous 48 states.

“They come up here and they think (Alaska) is just like Seattle or Portland. We try to show them it’s not quite the same here from a logistical and cost structure standpoint,” he said.

The biggest challenge is getting produce to his restaurants while it’s still fresh, Davidson said. Produce used to be shipped over the water, but that just took too long, he said. McDonald’s produce now comes to Alaska via a Carlile Transportation Systems truck from a Canadian shipper, a two-day haul.

“In the Lower 48 everyone pays the same for supply deliveries whether they’re one mile or 1,000 miles from the distribution center. They get more frequent deliveries at a lower cost than we do.” Davidson said. “That’s what’s difficult — how do we get produce up here when there’s a shelf-life challenge.”

The Anchorage McDonald’s restaurants sponsor a Ronald McDonald House Charities van to provide transportation around the city for families while their children receive medical care in Anchorage. It’s also often used as a shuttle to and from the airport for those in need of treatment in Seattle or elsewhere. Davidson said the blue van program began in 2008.

“We give a monetary donation for drivers and we have some partners around town for maintenance. It takes kids from the airport to the hospital, hospital to shopping, to the grocery store, wherever,” he said.

In 2010 the van shuttled approximately 3,400 people around Anchorage.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

01/16/2013 - 11:22am