Solid Gold

Breaking The Mold

Contrary to what some people may think, being part of a huge franchise system doesn't mean giving up your entrepreneurial freedom. McDonald's is a case in point. Sure, no matter where you go, Big Macs taste like Big Macs; that you can count on. But not all McDonald's locations look alike--and plenty of them offer little extras. Some restaurants are styled to look like '50s diners; others have breakfast buffets and bingo nights. "It's enormous, the kind of innovation you see in running a local business under a national brand," says Jack M. Greenberg, chairman of McDonald's USA.

LeRoy Walker Jr.'s downtown Jackson, Mississippi, McDonald's restaurant is a perfect example. Walker owns and operates 10 restaurants in metropolitan Jackson, but one of them stands out: It's an unconventional franchise where patrons regularly play chess while sipping coffee or feasting on apple turnovers. On any given day, there may be as many as 10 chess buffs playing and more people watching.

Walker started the program in 1989 at the request of his customers. He bought five chessboards and pieces to match, and customers have been playing ever since.

Walker knew the chess idea would have the support of McDonald's corporate. "An operator has the autonomy to make decisions that are in the [best] interests of the community," he says. Other than making his chess-playing customers happy, how has the program helped him? "I'm a little bit sharper in my chess game," says Walker--which can do nothing but help a businessman.

On the other side of the country, one of Isabelle Villaseñor's seven McDonald's restaurants is decorated in a floral motif top to bottom. A love of flowers passed down to Villaseñor by her late father, a gardener, has manifested itself as a Cypress, California, McDonald's franchise peppered with paintings of irises and Calla lilies, and bouquets of silk flowers throughout. Villaseñor's decorating panache earned the restaurant the San Diego Region Decor Award--and the distinction of being a unique McDonald's franchise.

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This article was originally published in the January 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Solid Gold.

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