It was a dark time in human history; a time when hungry people couldn’t get hot food on demand. 1950.
During this dark time, the old folks say, people who lived together had to gather around the dinner table whenever the food was ready. They had as little control over their meals as a cat meowing next to her empty food bowl. They had to dine together or go hungry. They had listen to stories of each other’s day while eating. Each savory bite was mixed with the bitterness of boredom and awkwardness.
In the 1950s, visionary businessman Ray Kroc swooped in and saved America from this dinner-table disaster. He unshackled us from the chains of food fascism. And he showed us a new world of food freedom.
With McDonald’s, Kroc allowed almost every American access to a hot, clean meal for an economical price wherever or whenever they want to eat.
“The Founder” begins in 1954. Traveling salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) discovered a remarkable eatery called McDonald’s in Santa Barbara, California. The McDonald brothers had developed an assembly line kitchen system. This was the first restaurant that sincerely respected the valuable time of its customers.
The McDonald bothers were serving many identical burgers very quickly and making a small fortune.
Ray Kroc got the franchising rights and went back to the Midwest to make a huge fortune.
Kroc had never done anything like this before. No one had. “The Founder” shows how the tenacious business titan slowly came up with the winning formula. The first McDonald’s locations were started by wealthy investors that Kroc found at his country club. The problem with them is that they just wanted to make a quick buck and play golf while their teenage employees ran the place.
Kroc’s biggest innovation was to hire hungry young entrepreneurs to open individual restaurants and run them hands-on themselves. This formula worked from day one.
McDonald’s is rightly criticized for underpaying its employees. But the company also has transformed thousands of penniless franchisees into middle class businessmen.
Director John Lee Hancock (“The Blindside”) has made a wildly entertaining biopic. To me, it was a feel-good movie. I don’t think that was Hancock’s intention, though. He wants us to loathe Ray Kroc for stealing the McDonald brothers’ idea.
But Ray Kroc didn’t steal anything. He paid handsomely for the name of the restaurant and its kitchen blueprints. It was Kroc’s idea to create a multi-national food empire and he’s the one who made it happen, with the myopic McDonald brothers dragging their feet the whole time.
To me, the only crime Ray Kroc is guilty of is hastening the death of the family farm and the rise of the agricultural industrial complex. McDonald’s buys almost exclusively from factory farms that commoditize and torture millions of animals every day.
To domesticated animals, Ronald McDonald is Stalin in a clown suit. To humans, McDonald’s is a symbol of liberation. We are no longer slaves to the dinner bell. We can eat whenever we want at a place that respects our valuable time and our limited budget.
Thank you, Mr. Kroc.