Written By Jim Murphy | Photos By Anthony Harden
From fast food to fine dining, restaurants comprise perhaps the most dominant franchise industry in the American economy. Dozens of giant nationwide chains contend for our business and our loyalty.
From tacos to waffles, from chicken to beef, familiar logos dot the commercial landscape, offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner to “eat here or to go.” It is a huge and competitive business, dominated by two chains on opposite ends of the dining experience. McDonald’s and Ruth’s Chris Steak House both have a strong presence in Asheville. The two are directed by men as different as the restaurants they lead.
Don Rasnick of McDonald’s
When he was 15, Don Rasnick’s stepfather told him to get a haircut and get a job. He went down to his local barbershop and then over to McDonald’s. In the 40 years since then, he has had hundreds of haircuts—but he’s still with MacDonald’s.
“My original job was making shakes back when we used to mix the ice cream and all that stuff,” he recalled. And to underscore how far both he and the company have come in four decades, he recited the history in numbers. “McDonald’s numbers its stores nationwide according to when they opened. That first store where I worked in Sarasota, Florida, was number 54. The newest store I’m opening in Asheville will be number 35,771.” That newest store will be the ninth in Rasnick’s gallery of McDonald’s outlets. In fact, the only other owner of McDonald’s stores in the Asheville area is the company itself.
While McDonald’s was growing, Don was growing right along with it. He moved from those shakes to the front counter, to shift manager, to store manager. “In a pretty short period of time I realized McDonald’s was a pretty good place to work. You got to meet a lot of people. Pretty girls worked there. You made a lot of friends, and it was something different every day.”
One of the pretty girls who worked there had a pretty sister named Lois. Don and his best friend double dated with the sisters, and eventually Don married Lois and his friend married her sister. “So my best friend became my brother-in-law.” And what had began as a teenage job was becoming part of the family.
The company bought that Sarasota store in 1973, effectively moving Don onto the first rung of the corporate structure. He climbed that ladder quickly. “I held just about every position in McDonald’s Corporation, both domestic and international. I was regional leader in both the South Florida and Atlanta regions. I did the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta. I opened the McDonald’s inside the Georgia Tech Dome.”
But he resisted when the company offered him a position at world headquarters in Chicago. “Lois and I made a decision early in our lives that we wanted to stay in the south. I was born in Bristol, Tennessee, and we were both raised in Florida. We decided we didn’t want any part of those Chicago winters.”
Now he sits in the Swannanoa building he bought earlier this year. His office cabinet displays his diploma from Hamburger U., a certificate for “35 Years of Dedicated Service,” and another for 40 years, a souvenir crystal golf club head. “I live to play golf—18 handicap,” he said. Pictures are still leaning against a wall, waiting to be hung. “I’ll get around to it. There’s too much else to do.”
Don left the corporation and moved to Asheville in 1999. “I started buying McDonald’s stock when I was 18 years old, so I had the opportunity to do whatever I wanted. I had been at McDonald’s 28 years, and I was traveling 200 days a year as a corporate employee. I said to Lois, ‘I want to hang out and do down time.’ So I retired from McDonald’s, and played golf every day, did the honey-do list. Everything in the house was fixed. Nothing was broken.” He shook his head at the recollection, remembering that his “retirement” turned into nothing more than a short intermission.
He interrupted his narrative to take a bite of the Chicken McNuggets he had brought in for lunch. He stated that he eats McDonald’s every day and, responding to a raised eyebrow, he ran through the calorie count of various items. At age 56 he appeared to be in good shape and was pleased to point out that his daily diet includes McDonald’s.
He returned to his story. “I was retired for about six months when my accountant told me about some McDonald’s restaurants that were going up for sale. I bought two of them. That was in the year 2000, and later that year the company sold me two more.
[quote]Lois said to me, ‘The next time you retire, don’t screw it up.’”[/quote]
Now Lois works in the office next to Don’s, handling the day-to-day administration of their eight restaurants. With 450 employees, including 65 managers at eight locations, the administration can be more than a full-time assignment. Don estimated that he works about sixty hours a week, and Lois laughingly asked, “Only sixty?” He’s not counting the time he spends “thinking about how [he] can do something different.”
(article continues on the next page and more photographs are at the end of the article)