When you think of a local, family-owned business, the Golden Arches isnt what springs to mind. But the company that owns and runs all of the McDonalds restaurants in the Treasure Valley is made up of a family two generations who, except for one son, have spent most of their careers under the McDonalds banner.
At 65, Dick Darmody is the patriarch of the business. After finishing college, he and his wife, Sally, worked at public schools in central Wisconsin Dick Darmody taught history at a junior high school, and Sally was an elementary school librarian. When their second child was born, Sally Darmody wanted to stay home to raise the children, and Dick Darmody decided to take a new job selling chocolate bars to groups doing fundraisers. Thats when he became interested in McDonalds.
When I did that job, I got to meet a lot of McDonalds people, he says. Darmody saw a common thread between teaching a job hed enjoyed and running a McDonalds restaurant.
I loved the help and direction and standards that teachers can pass on to students, and I looked at the McDonalds stores and thought ... so many people, their first jobs are at McDonalds, he says.
With the encouragement of a close friend who worked with McDonalds, Darmody set out earning the companys blessing to be a franchisee. He left the chocolate bars behind and took a sales job with Xerox that he worked during the day. Evenings and weekends, he worked at McDonalds. He learned everything about operating a McDonalds restaurant.
Darmody opened his first McDonalds in 1981 in a small central Illinois town. His second Illinois location followed in 1983.
In 1984, McDonalds officials told Darmody there were five restaurants for sale in Boise. The Darmodys decided to come take a look.
We fell in love with Boise, Darmody says. He remembers spending three January days in Boise with his wife and being dazzled by the areas natural beauty and friendly people.
It was so easy to look at each other and go, This is a no-brainer. This is where we want to raise our family, he says. Driving out here from Illinois ... was one of the happiest trips of our lives.
Everything fell into place. Darmody sold the restaurants in the Midwest without any problem. The only downside was taking out loans with early 1980s interest rates that Darmody recalls were 16 percent to 20 percent.
THE FAMILY BIZ
Today, two of Darmodys three children Rick Darmody, 43, and Becky Alexander, 36, both of Boise are employees or officers of the business. Alexander handles marketing, community relations and events like nights when local teachers work behind the counter to raise money for their schools. Ryan Darmody, a religion teacher in a San Francisco private high school, has an interest in the company but isnt involved in running it, Dick Darmody says.
All the children own a percentage of Darmody Enterprises. Rick is the obvious buyer for the local restaurants when his parents retire, says Dick Darmody, who doesnt plan to retire soon.
Rick Darmody grew up learning about sales and management from his father and started his first McDonalds job as a teenager in 1986.
He left Boise for the University of California, San Diego, in the late 1980s, then worked at a credit union in San Francisco for a year and got married. In the mid-1990s, he says, he and his wife decided to move back to Boise and get more serious about his career and building a life together.
Rick Darmody went to work at one of his familys McDonalds as a second assistant manager. He worked his way up to manager at the Vista Avenue and Kootenai Street restaurant. He got the McDonalds corporations approval in 1998 to become an owner-operator. Rick Darmody became the primary owner-operater of his first restaurant on Cherry Lane in Meridian in 2007. He now is the primary owner-operator of four McDonalds in the Valley.
When it selects franchisees, McDonalds is not looking just for investors, Rick Darmody says. It seeks owners who will run the eateries and give them full-time attention. Franchise owners must live within a one-hour drive of their stores, he says.
THE REIGNING BIZ
Darmody Enterprises is getting ready to open its 30th Treasure Valley restaurant at Eagle Island Marketplace in October. Dick Darmody says the milestone is rare in the McDonalds franchise world, where most owners have just a few restaurants. He estimates that less than one-half of 1 percent of McDonalds owners have as many stores as the Darmodys do.
How did the company rise to its McDonalds kingdom? Slow, steady growth and a little bit of luck, Darmody says.
Its also not easy to become a McDonalds franchisee. There are only 3,000 in the U.S. The corporation considers only people who have a half-million dollars in assets and tens of thousands of dollars for a down payment.
Unlike some franchise systems, McDonalds doesnt have territories. Each restaurants license is a single, isolated decision by the corporation. A community like Boise could have multiple, competing franchise owners. So when a restaurant opportunity pops up, it helps to have a good track record with the corporation.
McDonalds also counts on its local franchise owners to keep their eyes out for real estate, which the corporation will buy and then lease to its chosen owner-operator. McDonalds Corp. is the landlord for franchise restaurants.
We look for gaps in our trade area and make McDonalds aware, Dick Darmody says.
Back in the 1980s, there were two owner-operators in the Treasure Valley. Darmody bought out his competitors stores in Nampa, Caldwell and Ontario. (Hes also sold off some stores outside of the immediate area, like in Mountain Home and Ontario, in the past few decades, because of the distance from the Boise headquarters. Darmody says the sales allowed neighboring owner-operators to expand their reach.) Since then, McDonalds has chosen Darmody to own and operate all the stores in the Treasure Valley.
In many other cities, the ownership isnt so concentrated. In Seattle, there are probably 40 to 50 franchisees just in the city limits, Darmody says. But the Treasure Valley is somewhat isolated from large metro areas, and Darmody Enterprises is unique with two owner-operators Dick Darmody and Rick Darmody and a decades-long record of meeting the corporations goals for a franchise, he says.
I dont have any magic contract or anything, he laughs. Ive shown them, and Rick has shown them ... that we (and the McDonalds corporation) both seem to strive for the same thing.
The Darmody company is also a large buyer of Treasure Valley products, getting its fries from J.R. Simplot Co. through a supplier. (The supply chain takes the fries from Idaho to the Portland area, and theyre sent out to franchisees from there.)
And the Darmodys are a large employer in the Treasure Valley, with 1,300 to 1,500 people on staff depending on the season.
The company keeps its employees around for a long time some managers have been there up to 25 years and has one of the lowest turnover rates in the McDonalds system, Dick Darmody says. The stability helps with customer service, he says.
But its still a place where many teens land their first jobs.
Jose Casillas, 16, a crew trainer in Caldwell, hopes to get one of the scholarships that Darmody offers high school employees $250 for each semester he gets good grades in high school while working at the restaurants. Casillas has worked at three McDonalds in the Treasure Valley since joining the company at age 15.
Casillas hopes to go into the medical field and says his McDonalds job teaches you how to be nice to people and handle stress.
THE VALUE OF A VALUE MENU
Like the McDonalds corporation, whose operating income rose 25 percent between 2009 and 2011, the local stores fared well through the recession. The Darmodys say they are not permitted by McDonalds to divulge sales numbers. But sales have been strong enough to allow hiring when few other employers were. The corporation reported that its 27,075 franchised or licensed stores had $67.7 billion sales in 2011, an average of about $2.5 million per store. U.S. franchisee sales were $29.7 billion.
The Darmody chains 63-cent coffees for seniors are magnetic. Every morning, crews of local seniors head to the nearest McDonalds.
One morning this summer, Steve Jordan, Jim Roberts and Monty Bloomfield sat in a sunny booth at the Cleveland Boulevard restaurant in Caldwell with coffee cups in front of them.
We just got acquainted as we came here in the mornings, says Jordan, the eldest at 82. Were all, I guess, the older set.
Roberts sometimes will sit there until noon, depending on how much coffee he can throw back. Roberts says he likes not having to tip a waitress, but he and the others seem to brighten the day of a McDonalds staffer who walks by and teases them like a bunch of old friends.
Heres what the guys talk about: the military, jobs, history, war, politics, the wolf situation. You cover a lot of ground when youve been meeting for three years, they joke.
Bloomfield says that being a younger person in his mid-60s, Ive learned a lot of wisdom from these men.
The men chat about the government, Medicare, the choice of Paul Ryan as a vice presidential candidate. Bloomfield discovers hes related to one of Jordans grade-school classmates.
Roberts comments on the cleanliness of the restaurant. Jordan calls it an atmosphere you feel comfortable in. And Bloomfield calls the McDonalds restaurant a home away from home, almost.
Dick Darmody says he chats with customers in the dining rooms of his restaurants, and they tell him, I havent been to your restaurants for years, but now that money is tight ...
Being able to offer people a $1 sandwich with a $1 drink without lowering the quality of that item makes you feel good about what youre doing, he says.
Its been a very steady growth period for us, Dick says. I see a lot of families that this is their night out.
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448