McD's takes on Starbucks
by Sally Mitani
The new McDonald's that opened on Washtenaw-replacing Boston Market-is not your mama's McDonald's, or your toddler's either. Outside, it's the familiar golden arches-but inside, the booths are upholstered in soothing moss-green-and-chestnut fabric, and soft diffused light comes from suspended globes. The TV is tuned to closed-captioned CNN, and there's not only Wi-Fi in the store but also an electrical outlet at each table-a not-so-subtle invitation to linger awhile with your laptop over one of the chain's new, much-heralded lattes or cappuccinos.
"Michigan was the first place in the country to roll out the espresso drinks," says franchise co-owner Toni Rodgers. "They cost about half what a similar drink at Starbucks costs." (A McDonald's billboard ad campaign in Seattle rubs it in with a knife-twisting one-liner: "Four bucks is dumb." Here the tone is less antagonistic: "Coffee breaks shouldn't break you. $2.29," reads the McDonald's billboard at Dexter and Maple.)
Toni and B. J. Rodgers are a handsome and energetic Obamaesque-looking couple who used to work for GM. He is a retired CFO of the GM Foundation; she worked in marketing. Toni bought a McDonald's franchise in 2004. "After the Enron scandal," says Toni, "it occurred to us that maybe it wasn't a great idea to be working for the same company." This is their fourth franchise-and, she guesses, one of about twenty McDonald's in the county. The espresso drinks are indeed, Toni says, a deliberate and aggressive challenge to the hegemony of Starbucks. "We're not only going head to head, we're winning," she says, pointing out that Starbucks has continued its course of massive layoffs and store closings.
Among their four McD's, the Rodgerses employ over 200 people. Says Toni, "There is a definite career to be had here. Half my crew are already in college. But this is also a place where you're limited only by your ability, meaning you can rise without necessarily having an education."
"And," B. J. adds, "we've got elderly people working here too. I mean people in their forties, fifties . . ." Toni shoots him a look of astonishment. "Elderly? I just turned fifty. What are you talking about?" And the interview is over.
McDonald's, 3325 Washtenaw, 975-0466. Daily twenty-four hours. mcdonalds.com.
[Originally published in March, 2009.]