Photo courtesy of McDonald’s
In the 1970s, the coolest job you could do was flipping burgers at McDonald’s.
At least according to Paul Hendel. He started working at a newly opened McDonald’s restaurant in Merrick, New York on the South Shore of Long Island in 1973 when he was just 16 years old, excited to snack on unlimited French fries and hang out with his friends between shifts. The gig paid $1.85 an hour.
“Believe it or not, I needed to get a job at McDonald’s at the time, so my brother, who worked in the kitchen, recommended me for this job,” Hendel, 66, told CNBC Make It. “Everyone wanted to work there.”
Hendel did not see a future in his high school job after graduation. He was accepted into C.W. Post University (now Long Island University), planning to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in marketing and join his father, Hank, who worked at a Wall Street brokerage firm.
Fifty years later, Hendel owns and operates 31 McDonald’s locations in Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, including the flagship restaurant in Times Square.
“I never thought this would be my job forever,” Hendel says. “But I also can’t imagine working anywhere else.”
In 1975, Hendel was about to leave his job at Merrick McDonald’s before his first semester in college when his then-boss offered him a promotion: McDonald’s was opening a new location 30 minutes away in Glen Cove. We urgently need an assistant manager.
Hendel accepted the job, thinking he could use the money to help pay for tuition and books.
“I missed some gigs, and I wasn’t happy about it, but it really paid off when I graduated, because I didn’t have any debt and I was really ahead of the pack in terms of work experience and connections with these people. The job,” Hendel says. “Plus, having the confidence to open a new restaurant as an 18-year-old kid is very exciting.”
Hindle quickly proved to be a valuable asset to the team, volunteering for late-night shifts and improving the onboarding process for new crew members. Within three years, he was promoted to general manager.
In 1980, as soon as he graduated from university, Hendel once again found himself at a crossroads: should he join his father on Wall Street, where he could earn more money, or continue working at McDonald’s, at a job he was good at and enjoyed?
“I was seriously considering giving two weeks notice, and the restaurant owner/operator, Peter Hunt, must have read my mind because he said to me: ‘Paul, I don’t want you to leave. “I’m going to make you a supervisor for five McDonald’s locations in Nassau County, and that will come with a pay raise and a company car,” Hendel recalls.
After talking with friends and reading some job listings, Hendel realized the offer came with a much higher salary than he would have made in his first year working at a Wall Street firm (Hendel declined to share his past and current salary with CNBC Make It). .
Paul Hendel at a McDonald’s restaurant in Oceanside, New York in 1986.
Photo courtesy of McDonald’s
However, he felt conflicted. Hendel asked his father for advice before accepting the offer at McDonald’s. That conversation, he says, “changed the course of my career.”
“We went out to dinner, and I mentioned the offer from Hunt, and the first question my dad asked — and I’ll never forget — was, ‘Do you like what you do?’” Hendel says. “And I said, ‘Yes, I really like that.’ He says: Do you think you are good at that? So I said, “Well, I just got promoted!”
He continues: “Then he said, ‘Paul, if this is what you love to do, and you’re good at it, stick with it because I’m not crazy about my job or commuting to Manhattan every day.’” I realized then that work isn’t just about getting a paycheck every week; I’m so glad he gave me the advice he gave me, because I still love what I do.
Another aspect of working at McDonald’s that interested Hendel in his 20s was the opportunity to become an owner/operator, overseeing the daily operations of the restaurant and managing its employees. It’s also a profitable gig: ZipRecruiter It is estimated that McDonald’s owner/operators earn up to $400,000 annually.
“The opportunities offered by McDonald’s are truly limitless,” Hendel says. “I’ve worked with people who started out as crew members, were promoted to owner/operators within a few years and became millionaires.”
In 1990, Hendel became the owner/operator of the first McDonald’s restaurant in Brooklyn. “From there, I had another restaurant almost every year.”
Hendel says working in Brooklyn taught him the importance of time management, compassion, and dealing with problems “quickly and calmly” in a fast-paced environment. “You have to be really good with people when you’re managing a team and serving more than 1,000 customers a day in each restaurant,” he adds.
Paul Hendel and his children Lauren and Mark at a recent McDonald’s employee event.
Photo courtesy of McDonald’s
Hendel still works five days a week and spends most of his time at the restaurants he owns, checking in on employees and any construction or renovations going on at the properties.
The skills Hendel relies on to do his job haven’t changed in decades, Hendel jokes, and neither have his order from McDonald’s. “My favorite is the Quarter Pounder with Cheese,” he says.
Hendel did not think much about retirement. “Does it really work as long as you do something you love?” He says.
Eventually, Hendel expects he will gradually step down from his role, passing more responsibilities to his son Mark and daughter Lauren, who became owner/operators of the McDonald’s franchises in 2019 and 2022, respectively.
“I would like to have the flexibility to get work done so that I have more time to play golf, go out on the boat and spend time with my family,” Hendel says. “But I don’t want the word ‘retired’ next to my whole name.”
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