COLLIER COUNTY — The burger chain famous for the golden arches has not become an exclusive gentlemen’s club.
Drop into the McDonald’s restaurant at Park Shore Plaza in Naples, though, and you could be forgiven for a bit of confusion on that score. The interior features architectural touches more common to a country club or upscale steakhouse than a fast-food joint.
To go along with the interior renovations, the McDonald’s locations in Southwest Florida have just completed a campaign to improve their facades. Adams & O’Reilly Inc. owns 20 McDonald’s stores, all of the Collier county locations plus restaurants in Fort Myers Beach, San Carlos Park and two in Bonita Springs.
Partner Mike Adams said they are giving some of their stores a “facelift,” and bringing them in line with the latest in McDonald’s corporate brand identity.
“We’ve spent three years improving our seating spaces,” he said, “making them more relevant and going upscale or contemporary.”
Now, he said, the exterior makeover uses the same graphics as would be incorporated into a brand-new McDonald’s just being built.
McDonald’s is still McDonald’s, but restaurant patrons expressed enthusiasm for the upscale look.
Alina Stempnowski, visiting from Poland, struggled with the English words, but pronounced the décor “very tasty.”
Zbignew Stempnowski, traveling with her, commented, “It pays to spend a little money and have something special. I prefer this old-style look” to the usual bright yellow and red he associates with fast-food restaurants.
“I’ve never seen one like this in Ohio,” said Naples winter resident Dave Dorsey.
Sandi Sladcik of Estero commented, “They’re going for that old-time feeling, getting people to sit around and talk, back to the days when people wanted to talk to each other.”
She and her son Rory, 2, visit McDonald’s every couple of weeks, she said.
The McDonald’s on Marco Island has a completely different, but also distinctive, look. The theme is Polynesian, with a setting appropriate for a luau. Booths are tricked out with faux bamboo and chickee hut roofs, and tiki carvings, spears; plastic alligators decorate the walls. They have everything but hula dancers, and those are featured in the massive and brightly colored mural behind one row of booths.
“It’s very attractive, very Marco,” said Jerry Manning, a retired marketing professor and author. “It fits the island extremely well. And my grandchildren are also impressed.”
Manning speculated that the intent is to create a comfortable atmosphere where people are inclined to spend more time.
A modified Mansard roof and an arcade wall plus a “hearth” over the drive-through combine with the most noticeable element, what Adams called the “eyebrow” or “swoosh,” borrowing a little terminology from noted marketer Nike.
The renovations were by Naples-based contractor Twin A Construction.
The construction work comes at the time when McDonald’s is preparing to roll out its new McCafe specialty coffees nationally, although the beverages have been for sale in Southwest Florida since Feb. 11.
“Mike wanted to get rolling on that and get a jump before it hit nationally,” said Dustin Innings, manager of McDonald’s Park Shore location. “We had to remove a wall, move the counter down and install new equipment” to make the mochas, cappuccinos and lattes the chain will be featuring.
His personal favorite among the new offerings, said Innings, is iced mocha, which has become far and away the top seller of the McCafes.
In addition to specialty coffees, bottled beverages, frappes and smoothies are being added to McDonald’s liquid lineup.
“We’re bullish on the coffee business,” confirmed Adams. “We started ads locally the first of March. Already, we have been exceeding projections from corporate.” The changes, he said, are “a lot of effort — the biggest undertaking we’ve taken on in 35 years.”
Not all locations will offer the new beverages. Compact McDonald’s within malls and Wal-Marts will not receive the machines necessary to produce McCafe beverages.
Adams says the new offerings and the new look are not related to current economic conditions.
“Hopefully, everything turns around, and everybody’s happy,” he said. While he acknowledges going after the upscale coffee customer, he disavows any notion McDonald’s is going after mega-coffee retailer Starbucks.
“We are just trying to stay relevant and offer people what they want,” he said. “We do hope more people use us for specialty coffees.”
He says their most significant competitor is Burger King, which has the second-largest number of fast-food restaurants in the market.
These days, he added, what a lot of people want is a bargain.
“Thank goodness for the dollar menu,” he said. “A lot of our customers are using the dollar menu to put together their own custom value meal, or add on” to full-price menu items.
Unlike the stereotype of the dollar menu as being a loss leader, Adams claims that McDonald’s low-priced food is profitable for the company.
“We’ve increased the level of value offerings,” he said, in addition to the dollar menu. “We offer buy-one, get-one-free breakfast sandwiches, special items on promotional days.”
April 15, he said, will be Tax Relief Day at McDonald’s. Buy one Big Mac and you can get a second for 1 cent.
Mike Adams’ history with McDonald’s goes back to 1972, when he was a 16-year-old in Springfield, Mo. He started at the bottom. “I was behind the counter, working on the crew.”
The following year, Don Turner, brother-in-law of the Missouri McDonald’s owner, opened the first McDonald’s in Naples, and Adams went to work for him.
“That was at Gulfgate Center, on Bayshore and the East Trail,” he remembers. “I worked there for 17 years.” In 1991, Adams and his partner Tom O’Reilly purchased what was then a six-store franchise.
“We’ve grown and benefited as the local economy has grown,” he said. He pinpoints November 2005 as the moment when that economy faltered and began to show signs of stress.
“It’s been a relatively tough three years,” he said, “but we were able to watch our pocketbook and keep the customers coming in.”
In the last few weeks, he said, they have begun to see signs of an upturn. “Locals? Tourists? We’re not sure, but we’ve definitely seen business picking up.”
With 55 McDonald’s locations in Southwest Florida, including 20 owned by his closely held company, Adams says they have no current plans to add new restaurants. Adams and O’Reilly provides jobs locally for 800 people and bargain-priced nourishment for many thousands more.
E-mail Lance Shearer at email@example.com