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Jobs of the future: The MacWhirters go back to their roots with McDonald's franchises in North Bay and Sturgeon Falls

'We want to demonstrate to the community that we are here with them. We don’t want to be a faceless, no name business that just wants their business, we want to be an active part of the community'

“McDonald's has been a part of my life since the beginning,” says Colin MacWhirter.  

“My dad was the store manager until I was eight years old and that’s where I developed a lot of passion for the industry because I’d come in the restaurant and all the managers and crew would fawn over me because I’m the store manager's kid, plus I got all the toys and so as an eight year old, that was the best job any parent could have.”

MacWhirter is the owner and operator of the local cluster of McDonald's restaurants with three in North Bay, on McKeown Avenue, Lakeshore Drive, and inside Walmart at the Northgate Shopping Centre, as well as the Sturgeon Falls location.

He took over those stores in December of 2019 after spending 20 years in the technology sector as a consultant, working in both Canada and the United States.

“I have a friend who owns a McDonald's franchise in Windsor and I told him I was looking for something different and so he showed me what he was doing running his restaurant,” says MacWhirter.

“Something during that tour clicked and I thought 'this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.' It was fun and brought back so many good memories and that put me on the process of becoming an operator.”

MacWhirter didn’t just have good memories of visiting McDonald's as a kid as his first job was at a McDonald's restaurant.

“I got to start when I was 14,” he says. 

“I was there for seven years at a store in Brockville first, and then in Kingston, working my way up to manager. I really believed that experience helped me in my longer-term career and what I was able to accomplish.”

MacWhirter went to St. Lawrence College in Kingston and graduated with a degree in Business Administration, and Information Systems and says he was ready to pursue that because of what he learned while working at McDonald's.

“The skill set and the training and the work ethic they teach you are critical in terms of success and how you move forward in your life. McDonald's has a lot of different opportunities and so you always see how you can get to that next level within the restaurant itself and it really comes down to perseverance,” he says.

“If you get the work done and power through it, you’re going to be able to get to the next level.”

MacWhirter’s next-level goal was returning to the restaurant where it all started after that visit with his acquaintance in Windsor.

“It’s a two-year process between submitting your application and getting accepted and getting reacquainted in all the training and techniques. I then get a call from the head office saying that North Bay was available,” says MacWhirter. 

As part of the planning to take over the North Bay and Sturgeon Falls restaurants, MacWhirter planned to bring his father back into the fold.

Dan MacWhirter started at McDonald's in his early 20s and “16 years later I was the General Manager of five stores with 700 staff,” says the elder MacWhirter who is now the Regional Marketing Specialist for North Bay/Sturgeon Falls.

“My responsibility is mainly in marking and looking after community relationships. I enjoy being engaged in the community and finding ways where we can help charities and organizations in achieving their goals.”

That was a big focus for Colin when he originally submitted his application.

“The community engagement aspect was something that was really important to me. Coming into a business like this, there are so many factors you’re trying to absorb at the beginning. With Dan’s role, he enabled me to do that community connection about two years ahead of schedule,” says Colin.

“Dan is very passionate about these initiatives.”

“The key is to find the right people and one of the first places I reached out to was the folks at the North Bay Regional Health Centre Foundation and One Kids Place,” says Dan. 

“You need to know who the core people are that help make things happen in your city and I think we’ve found that in North Bay. We also like to partner with the Children’s Aid Society and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.”

Since the MacWhirters have come to North Bay they have been involved in more than a dozen community initiatives.

Not only have they continued with the long-established Christmas Toy Drive (which collected close to 1,300 toys last year) but they have also set up the “100 Egg McMuffin Mission” where they donated breakfast to front-line workers at the North Bay Regional Health Centre and have since donated over 600 Egg McMuffins and coffees. They partnered with the local police department to provide treats and toys to children celebrating their birthdays during the COVID-19 emergency lockdown. As well they donated “You Deserve a Treat Coupons” to the hospital to give out to kids who had to take a COVID test.

Colin says anytime they can reach out and do something to help kids they will gladly find a way to make it happen.

“It’s near and dear to our hearts and I just feel like kids should be kids and just live their lives and have fun. When they are dealing with illnesses or situations that kids shouldn’t have to deal with, we want to make those situations better for them.”

Colin continues, “We want to demonstrate to the community that we are here with them. We don’t want to be a faceless, no-name business that just wants their business, we want to be an active part of the community.”

Dan says, “It is more prominent for a business to be involved in the community now than when I first started. You get asked all the time for things like coupons for a minor sports team’s event or for organizations that are planning events. One of McDonalds' main mandates is to see their franchises be active parts of the community and for their management staff to be involved in service clubs.”

It’s not just the community outside the restaurant that the MacWhirters are trying to have a positive influence on, but also the community of workers steering the ship across all four stores.

“I try to support everybody who is here and if they have long-term ambitions and goals I want to know what I can do and how I can help them reach those goals,” says Colin.

“Hopefully it’s something where that employee will stay with me and build a long prosperous career with us, but I also understand the logic that nothing is set in stone. So if we can help you with what those longer-term ambitions are, whether it’s school, other careers, personal lives, we’ll do what we can to make that happen.”

Dan adds, “This is an opportunity to watch kids grow and mature into young adults and become successful in whatever they want to pursue. We ask 'what do they want to do with the rest of their life' and we try to find ways where we can help them develop those skills.”

And Colin says that is something that has stayed consistent throughout both his father's tenure and his own career at McDonald's.

“The things that haven’t changed are the family and close-knit mentality that people have here,” he says. 

“Because it is such a high-pressured job, people really have a mutual respect for one another. I find that it helps build relationships and so that’s the thing that has stayed the same, people are really dedicated to helping each other out, and our focus is on making sure our people feel recognized and feel valued, especially after the last couple of years.”

Colin says, going forward as technology advances they will always be looking at ways to enhance the customer experience.

“I have a lot of faith in what McDonald's is doing as a whole. They partnered with a website development company to produce the app. When you come into the restaurant, that’s where we want to impress you and give you the best experience possible where we can make you feel special,” he says.

“The next step or evolution with the kiosks is to recognize license plates when you’re in the drive-thru. So if you sign up for the service, you come through the drive-thru and based on the license plate, we would know what your typical order is and have it ready. We’re also looking at better ways to use your phone or app to pay for your purchase. I’ve always been impressed by what McDonald's has done to try and push the technological envelope and I think there are lots of cool things down the road that we can still work on.”

Dan says it’s important to note, “We are streamlining customer service without taking away jobs through technological upgrades, but I don’t ever see McDonald's or any fast food for that matter, being fully automated.”

Colin says the last two years have been difficult with adjustments being made to adapt to COVID-19, but he says, “I’m so glad I did this. That’s the difference between finding something you want to be doing versus just having to go to a job. I found the fact that I wanted this so badly is what has enabled me to get through these past two years without not wanting to do it anymore.”

He says, “You feel so good about what you’re doing and the community has been so great to us. So that, plus working with all these great people is going to allow us to move the business forward and be able to do even more great things in the future.”

If you have a story idea for “Jobs of the Future” send Matt an email at m.sookram@outlook.com