Most Tuesday mornings, the parking lot at the McDonald’s on Hwy. 55 and Winnetka in Golden Valley fills up by 8:45. Inside, the restaurant is filled with the chatter of a silver-haired clientele which appears to be an average 65 years young.
“Judy’s one of the youngest,” says Bev Lester. “She’s only 62.”
Bev, 69, and Judy Vosepka are sitting at a high top near the window, along with Nancy Forseth, and Laurie Palaia, (both of whom would only admit to being “under 85.”) They call themselves the Valley Girls, and have come here every Tuesday for that last three years to play bingo together.
“We get free coffee and we win a sandwich every now and then,” says Lester. “And Doris makes it fun.”
Doris and Tim Baylor bought the McDonald’s last summer. Along with a thriving fast-food franchise, they also inherited Tuesday morning bingo.
“It was an activity,” says Doris Baylor, 52. “I wanted to make it a community.”
So instead of having her staff call the shots, Baylor calls bingo. She also makes announcements: birthdays, anniversaries and funeral notices.
“They’re so interested in connecting and that’s why they come,” she says.
Not about the burgers
“We never just think about selling burgers. That’s not who we are. To be a good business owner it’s about understanding your community and knowing who they are,” says Baylor.
Baylor and her husband, Tim, own three McDonald’s restaurants: the Golden Valley location, one in Robbinsdale, which they purchased in 2001, and one in the Hawthorne neighborhood in north Minneapolis on Broadway Avenue in a strip mall Tim helped develop in 1997.
The difference in customers between the suburban and North Side restaurants, according to Tim Baylor, 53, is “night and day.”
Customers as stakeholders
“Last summer we had four murders within 100 feet of the Hawthorne property. Three in broad daylight. One guy died in our drive-thru,” says Tim.
In response, the Baylors hired extra security and remodeled the Broadway location, putting in a conference room to provide a meeting place for community groups, as well as a space for children’s birthday parties. Their strategy was to give customers a sense of ownership in the restaurant.
“They’ll tell me what’s going on,” says Tim, “Our customers know each other and there are times when they will run people out of here.” On occasion, Tim will sit and eat breakfast and talk sports and politics with a group of elderly African-American men who show up every morning at 7:30 am, and linger over a cup of coffee for hours.
“They know I played with the Vikings [1979-81 defensive back], and I think they’re proud of that and I think they appreciate seeing a responsible young black man taking care of business,” he says.
“There is an inherent pride,” says Doris. “Customers are serious stakeholders in the success of our business.”
Pride that can be found in something as small as a bingo chip.