This year marks a milestone for McDonald’s in the Cleveland area as Hank Smith, owner of the No. 1 family restaurant for food and fun, celebrates 40 years of service and customer satisfaction — an accomplishment that managed to bring tears to his eyes.
Smith, who opened his first McDonald’s in Cleveland on March 7, 1973, was among the first to branch out into the fast food franchise in its early years. He had pioneered the package policy program for restaurants and served as insurance manager for the McDonald’s Corporation and its licensees in 1962, before deciding to move to Cleveland and head his own McDonald’s franchise.
Today, he and his son Mark own 10 McDonald’s restaurants, with four in Cleveland, one in Ooltewah, one in Athens, one in Ocoee, one in Etowah, one in Madisonville and one in Sweetwater. His daughter Susan Dodge and her husband are also owners of two more McDonald’s in the Nashville area.
To see a businessman, so sentimental for his company, express the joy of serving his community with such terms of endearment — as Smith did when speaking about McDonald’s, its customers and his staff — was a rare treat.
“Our business is all about the people,” Smith said. “It’s all about the people. They really are like family. So I’d like to say, thank you, thank you, thank you, to everyone. It’s an honor and a privilege to serve and continue to service our community. I had a freshman algebra teacher in high school. I will always remember what she said. She said, ‘There is no rest for the wicked, and the righteous need none. Which one are you?’ Then she would add, ‘When you get out in the world, make sure you get a job that every morning you get up, you can’t wait to get there!’ And she was 100 percent right.”
For McDonald’s 40th anniversary in Cleveland, Smith said they recently gave away a 40-inch flat screen TV to one grand prize winner and several $100 gift cards.
“We had a good time,” he added, “We also gave away commemorative T-shirts, had some in-store celebrations and threw several parties. It was fun!”
In fact, listening to Smith and his son speak about their 40 years in business together, one immediately gets the impression that working for themselves in association with McDonald’s has been as much fun as it has been business. That includes the fond memories of the Smith family struggling together to establish McDonald’s in Cleveland during snowstorms and other inclement weather — cherished memories written on their smiling faces as they sat back and reminisced about the early years in business.
According to Smith, McDonalds has remained relevant for the past 58 years by adapting its menu to the changing needs and requests of customers, which includes providing a menu that appeals to a nutrition-minded nation.
“We went from a menu board that was about as big as a desk calendar — with a Big Mac, a Quarter Pounder, a hamburger, cheeseburger, a fish filet sandwich and fries. We served Coke, root beer, orange drinks, milkshakes and milk. That was it. Today, we have a huge menu board and we have to turn the panels from breakfast to our regular menu. People’s tastes change and if you want to stay relevant, you have to accommodate them. The company has done that and developed a lot of leaders in the industry.”
Smith was the first chairman of the board of the Ronald McDonald House of Chattanooga. He is the current chairman of McDonald’s Owner/Operator Insurance Company, a member of the National Operations Insurance Task Force, and he served on several regional and local McDonald’s advertising boards as well as its national Operators Advisory Boards.
The 77-year-old businessman has managed to maintain, as does his company, a high profile where his restaurants are located — always giving back to make sure the local community is supported. He is the past president of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce and the Cleveland Country Club. He is involved with the Cleveland State Community College Foundation, Bradley Medical Hospital Foundation, United Way and several other organizations.
Having spent a total of 51 years with the McDonald’s corporation, Smith shared his feelings about the company’s work ethic and his staff’s loyalty to McDonald’s that has become a rare achievement in today’s high-turnover companies.
“We’re very, very proud of our training,” Smith said. “This is an entry level job for a lot of people and they learn a lot of disciplines. But it is also a career job. Our oldest employee here, Greg White — our director of operations — came to work here in 1977. Donna Robinson has been here for 30 years. We have an organization we call the pillars club. These are people who have been with the company for five years or more. Last year we had 104 people who have worked more than five years for our franchise. When we added up all the years combined, they were more than 1,200 years of working at McDonald’s. So we like to think of ourselves as a family organization.”
The Cleveland resident who is a past recipient of the Businessman’s Free Enterprise Award from the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, has established a scholarship at Cleveland State Community College. He is also a proud supporter of the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) Programs, such as the Special Olympics, adopt-a-school programs, area high schools’ athletic and band booster scholarship programs, and the Chattanooga Symphony concerts for Youth.
Thanks to his vision of success and commitment to excellence, Smith has joined a rare breed of professionals who helped make McDonald’s the world’s largest hamburger chain and one of the world’s leading food service retailers with more than 36,000 restaurants serving nearly 68 million people daily in more than 119 countries.
“Next year McDonald’s is going to open in Eastern Russia 150 stores and 200 to 300 new stores in China,” said Smith, who admits to coming a long way from his humble beginnings four decades ago.
“When we opened in 1973, we opened at 10 a.m. and closed at 11 p.m. I got to work at 9 a.m. and went home at 11:30 each night. That was a steady routine for a while. I was not the best hamburger flipper,” Smith said with a hearty laugh. “But there isn’t anything in the store I didn’t do. In the 40 years I’ve been here, I have been blessed to have good people working with me.”
Having a wonderful wife, five grown children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild, Smith said he considers himself blessed in his faith, his family life, his friendships and in his work.
Smiling, with tears swelling in his eyes, he admitted, “Had it not been for McDonald’s, I don’t think I would have ever met the depth and breath of the people I’ve met and been associated with — and proud to say, ‘Hey, they worked for me,’ or ‘I knew them when.’ Some of the experiences here can never be repeated. They were just so unique. I don’t know that people ever have the right to say that they’ve been fulfilled. But I’m probably one person who is almost totally fulfilled.”
Following the principles of quality, service, cleanliness and value, Smith has succeeded in bringing to Cleveland a team that resembles a family, a company almost as familiar as home and an atmosphere where happy meals and hungry patrons meet under the Golden Arches of McDonald’s.