Growing up as a Black kid in Chicago, Dr. Marcia Chatelain says she learned more about Black history from McDonald’s than from her fancy prep school. Now, as a professor of history and African American studies, Dr. Chatelain is exploring the role that McDonald’s has played in Black communities since its founding in the 1940s. In many places, McDonald’s has been a community hub and a pathway to business ownership for Black entrepreneurs. But it’s also been a tool for those seeking to preserve segregation. We dig into the chain’s complicated legacy. Plus, Dan and his family stop in at a very special McDonald’s on Long Island.
Dr. Chatelain's book is Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America and her newsletter is Your Favorite Prof.
This is the second part of our two-episode series on McDonald’s. Make sure to check out last week’s episode about the couple who hacked the infamous McDonald’s ice cream machine.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Back in Kindergarten" by Henry Donato
- "Shake and Bake" by Hayley Briasco
- "Legend" by Erick Anderson
- "Dreamin" by Erick Anderson
- "Midnight Grind" by Cullen Fitzpatrick
- "Steady" by Cullen Fitzpatrick
- "Hang Tight" by Hayley Briasco
- "Comin For a Change" by Stephen Sullivan
Photo courtesy of George/Flickr CC.
Dan Pashman: All right, kids?
Dan Pashman: We're going to be arriving at lunch soon. I want to tell you something exciting about where we're going to eat. We are going to a restaurant in a mansion.
Dan Pashman: I’m in the car with Janie and the kids and this mansion restaurant we’re going to is in New Hyde Park, NY, just outside New York City. It’s a 19th-century historical landmark.
Dan Pashman: What do you imagine a restaurant in the mansion would be like?
Emily Pashman: Like a humongous restaurant that’s super fancy and it has super yummy food.
Becky Pashman: Golden tables and chairs with white tablecloths and red carpets on the floor.
Janie Pashman: Yeah, what kind of food do you think it has?
Emily Pashman: I want Caesar salad.
Becky Pashman: They probably have Caesar salad with gold caesar dressing.
Dan Pashman: So how are you feeling now knowing that you're about to go into a mansion for the first time in your lives?
Becky Pashman: Oh, excited. But I feel like there's a catch. Or something you’re not telling us about it.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. McDonald’s is everywhere. In fact, it’s so omnipresent that when you start a story there, you can end up anywhere.
Dan Pashman: Like, last week we brought you a story about McDonald’s ice cream machines. They’re famous for always being broken. We talked with a couple who hacked the machines to try to make them work better, then ended up with private investigators on their tails. This week we have two more stories about McDonald’s. This first one is just a quick little nugget, then we’ll move on to something meatier.
Dan Pashman: So, given that setup, you may have all ready figured out that the mansion restaurant, the one Becky imagines will have white tablecloths and gold furniture. Well, it's a—
Becky Pashman: McDonalds, woo hoo!
Janie Pashman: Woah. Look at that. Here, let's get out.
Dan Pashman: New York’s got this road, Route 25. It was built by the colonial government in 1745, as a military highway. It runs from New York City straight east all the way to the tip of Long Island, over a hundred miles of what for generations was farmland. Today, this road is a hundred miles of almost continuous strip malls, big box stores, car dealerships, fast food restaurants, and gas stations.
Dan Pashman: But one relic remains. In the 1860s, a farmhouse on this road was converted into a Georgian-style mansion. It was later used as a funeral home, and then, in 1986, McDonalds bought the property. They planned to tear down the mansion, replace it with a typical McDonalds. But residents fought the plan, and gave the house landmark status. In the end, there was a compromise: McDonald’s agreed to spend millions to restore the mansion, keeping its historic look on the outside, while making it a typical McDonald’s on the inside. In exchange, residents agreed to let them build a drive thru in the back.
Dan Pashman: And that's why today, wedged in between all those strip malls and gas stations there's is a big white house with columns and cornices and it’s a McDonald’s.
Dan Pashman: All right, here we go into the mansion.
Janie Pashman: Oh no we can’t go in.
Dan Pashman: The indoor dining area was closed because of COVID. But we could still see it. It had high ceilings with big black pillars and a grand staircase leading up to another dining area. There was a wraparound porch that had been enclosed in glass to create another dining area. My first thought? If you’re looking to have a nice wedding on a budget, this place is an excellent option.
Emily Pashman: May I please have a Happy Meal?
McDoanld’s Cashier: What kind of Happy Meal do you want?
Emily Pashman: Cheeseburger.
Dan Pashman: Yes, so I'll have two cheeseburgers, one spicy crispy chicken sandwich.
McDoanld’s Cashier: OK.
Dan Pashman: And one medium fries, please.
McDoanld’s Cashier: OK, any soda?
Dan Pashman: No, nothing to drink.
Dan Pashman: Janie went with a hamburger. Did I mention it was Mother’s Day? She’s a good sport. We took our food outside, sat on the steps with a nice view of an auto body shop, and chowed down.
Dan Pashman: What do you think, girls?
Becky Pashman: Well, at least the food's good.
Emily Pashman: I'm eating my cheeseburger cheese side down.
Dan Pashman: Smart move. That's my girl.
Dan Pashman: That Mansion McDonald’s is in New Hyde Park on Long Island. If you hit Mavis Discount Tire, you’ve gone too far.
Dan Pashman: Now onto our third and final story about McDonald’s. This one's our main focus, today.
Marcia Chatelain: May name is Marcia Chatelain. I'm the author of Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, and I'm a professor of history in African American studies at Georgetown.
Dan Pashman: Do you prefer Dr. or professor?
Marcia Chatelain: I mean, this is not class so you can please call me Marcia.
Dan Pashman: Like any good academic, Dr. Chatelain, or Marcia, is very committed to her subject matter.
Marcia Chatelain: I have a substack newsletter that’s devoted to fast food and teaching, the two things I’m obsessed with.
Dan Pashman: I’m subscribing now, click click click…
Marcia Chatelain: It’s called Your Favorite Prof. And we did a— I did a— “We’, it’s just me writing it.
Marcia Chatelain: I know, the team and I came together...
Dan Pashman: As she said, Marcia is the author of Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America. In it she examines the pros and cons of McDonald’s role in African American communities since its founding. I asked her to read an excerpt, about her personal connection to McDonald’s:
Growing up, McDonald’s was everywhere. We ate at McDonald’s before or after church on Sundays. I hosted my friends at birthday parties there, and no matter how many high-end pastries I sample, the chocolate-banana birthday cake offered at the McDonald’s on Western Avenue in Chicago’s Rogers Park is my favorite of all time. My friends and I would pool our orders of French fries on the brown trays after school, and chat as we enjoyed our growing freedom. In high school, I would go to a McDonald’s in downtown Chicago that was decorated with portraits of Black history makers and prints from Black painters and visual artists, before I took an hour-long train-and-bus commute home. In my financially lean days of college and graduate school, McDonald’s was a staple of my diet when I was scrambling to finish term papers and dissertation chapters. I frequented other fast food restaurants over the years, but McDonald’s was where I grew up, and for most of my life, I have eaten there and enjoyed it. As I have aged and studied, my feelings about fast food have changed but my gratitude remains for the many memories I have collected over the years.
Dan Pashman: I was going to start off by asking you how how this became one of your areas of study, but I think that passage kind of answers the question.
Marcia Chatelain: Yeah, I mean, McDonald's was, I think, one of the most reliable presences in my life growing up. I mean, I just felt like in the absence of having a lot of family traditions, in the absence of having grown up in just one home, McDonald's in many ways was like the thing that I always knew was there.
Dan Pashman: Marcia’s connection to McDonald’s isn’t just about warm and fuzzy memories of meals shared. She says when she was growing up as a Black kid in Chicago, McDonald’s in her neighborhood was more than a restaurant. It was a community hub.
Marcia Chatelain: It’s like you know who the Black McDonald’s franchise owners are. If you grow up Black in certain cities, because they’re everywhere. They were on local TV. They’re on the radio station telling people to fill out the census and register to vote. And this was like one of these weird, like racial Rorschach tests when I was on my book tour. You know, a white audience member would be like, I have no idea who's the franchisee of my McDonald's.
Dan Pashman: On the surface, it seems McDonald’s had a largely positive impact on Black communities. It offered an opportunity for Black people in cities to own a business and create jobs. And Black franchisees used their resources to give out scholarships to local students, and invest in education about Black history.
Marcia Chatelain: McDonald’s Black franchisees used to sponsor this Martin Luther King PSA short video thing. I used to love it as a kid. It had a song. There was this whole series of Black History Month content that was on like a cassette tape.
Dan Pashman: McDonald's made that?
Marcia Chatelain: McDonald's Black franchisees regionally pooled their money. It has MC Lyte on it. The thing that I find really stunning about that is that I'm a historian of African-American life and culture and I had more exposure to Black history because of McDonald's stuff than I did at school. And I went to like a like fancy like prep school. So I had the best education, but it was McDonald's that would open up the pathway to my career. Oh, and look at me now. I'm writing these books critical of it. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: As a historian, Marcia turns a more critical eye on the place she loved so much as a kid. Because even while McDonald’s franchises became pillars of Black neighborhoods, the relationship between the corporation and the community was often tenuous.
Dan Pashman: The standard McDonald’s origin story goes like this: The McDonald brothers open a hamburger restaurant in California in the 1940s. It’s a drive-in, so you order at a window or through an intercom. A server brings the food out to your car. This is the same time as the rise of American suburbs, expanding highway system, greater access to cars. The restaurant is a hit, so they move to a franchising model. Individual franchisees pay McDonald’s a startup fee to essentially own their outpost. The franchisee operates according to the company’s rules and has to pay them a percentage of sales.
Dan Pashman: The brothers have a handful of franchises when a milkshake machine salesman named Ray Kroc comes on board in 1954. By 1961, he squeezes out the McDonald brothers, and eventually grows the company into a multinational franchising behemoth.
Dan Pashman: As McDonald’s is growing in the 50s and 60s, so, too, is the civil rights movement. Activists are pressuring businesses and government to desegregate, and some of the most famous protests of the era take place at lunch counters and restaurants.
Marcia Chatelain: When we think about the 1960s sit-in, McDonald's is just like completely erased from that history. Although Desegregation of McDonald's was actually an agenda item for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, there were fights in Pine Bluff, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee, throughout North Carolina about McDonald's having segregation in their little ordering windows because a lot of them were drive-ins. And throughout the south, desegregation led a lot of the fast food restaurants to not want to do inside dining because they didn't want to deal with the fact that they would have to have integrated seating. And so McDonald's has kind of like scooched its way out of that story.
Dan Pashman: By the early ‘60s, most franchises do desegregate their ordering windows but the company turns a blind eye to the ones that don’t. Then, in the late 60s, in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination, McDonald’s shifts their strategy.
Marcia Chatelain: McDonald’s started to present itself as racially progressive because they were opening restaurants in African American communities, and because they were recruiting Black franchise owners. The historian in me is, like wait a second, not so fast. You have to kind of do a rewind to think about the origins of this relationship.
Dan Pashman: And what exactly is McDonald’s thought process in the late 60s? They make a conscious decision, we are going to invest in African American neighborhoods and African American franchisees. Why do they decide to do that at that moment?
Marcia Chatelain: So if you look at some of the material they write, it's because they were so moved by the moment. If you really look at what was happening during the period, there are two things. One is some of the white franchise owners found themselves in neighborhoods that had either through white flight, became predominantly Black or had some strained community relations because during the uprisings, after King's assassination, there was a lot of questions about white profiteering in Black communities. And so some of these franchise owners wanted out. McDonald's was willing to transfer them out and they had made this investment in a restaurant. And so the Nixon administration during that time was also promoting this idea of Black capitalism. And so they were providing money, federal funds, to help minority businesses start. And you have a moment in which the loss of a major figure in the civil rights structure is kind of opening the door to anything could be civil rights.
Dan Pashman: In other words, there’s this idea that civil rights doesn’t just have to be about passing laws. Another avenue to civil rights could be investing in Black businesses. Capitalism could further the cause.
Dan Pashman: Now, McDonald’s isn’t the only one with this idea. In the late 60’s several Black celebrities start their own fast food chains: Muhammad Ali, Mahalia Jackson, and James Brown. Marcia says these stars are motivated partly by this idea of civil rights through business, and partly by plain old business.
Marcia Chatelain: People get super into franchising in the 1960s. One, they're seeing the incredible growth of McDonald's. It's the first fast food restaurant to become a publicly traded company. They're also seeing this kind of new landscape for celebrity because after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and there's gradual desegregation of public accommodations, particularly restaurants, African-American consumers are becoming more comfortable in going to restaurants without fear of violence or a fear of rejection. And so there's like all this market potential. There's also the rise of an emergent Black middle class that has more buying power. And so everyone is like seeing dollar signs. And so celebrities also, you know, if you think about like the NFL and the NBA, back in those days, there weren't like huge Nike contracts. Like if you weren't Joe Namath, you weren't making crazy money on your image.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, no. A lot of those guys had jobs in the off season.
Marcia Chatelain: 100 percent. And so they are starting to learn about how to license their names to these franchises. But one of the reasons why franchising was so popular, particularly among African-American celebrities, it was this idea that you could give people a chance to start their own business.
Dan Pashman: But getting a McDonald’s franchise requires a lot of money up front, which for most folks means taking out a big loan. And once you have the restaurant, it’s not exactly the same as owning your own business. You’re beholden to McDonald’s. They own the land your restaurant is on. They decide if you can get a second location, and if so, where it’ll be. And if they say you have to upgrade your equipment to add a new menu item, you don’t have much say in the matter. On paper you’re a restaurant owner, but in many ways you’re still at the company’s mercy.
Marcia Chatelain: Absolutely. And I love being a downer because I'm a historian. I'm like, no, this is how it really happened. I'm the worst. Don't let me take your kids to a museum or help them with their history homework because it'll be awful. So I get that. But with that being said...
Dan Pashman: Mom, dad, Auntie Marcia told us...
Marcia Chatelain: That none of this is real. Right? But the reality is, is that for a very long time, franchising has been presented as the American dream, like this is how an everyday person could go into business. I think ,this is why it's such a double edged sword when African-Americans, particularly, go into franchising because this is a community that has been outside of business opportunities. And so they're trying to hold on to this opportunity because this may be their only way in to having a business. But franchising is very risky and very high stakes.
Dan Pashman: And yet, that’s a chance some Black Americans are willing to take.
Dan Pashman: McDonald’s first Black franchisee, in 1968, is Herman Petty, in Cincinnati. By 1972, there are enough Black franchisees that they form their own interest group, the National Black McDonald’s Operators Association. And despite the obstacles, Black-owned McDonald’s start doing very well.
Dan Pashman: When we come back, McDonald’s assumes its place as a pillar of urban Black neighbourhoods and exposes the limitations of pursuing equal rights through business. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. And I got some cascatelli pasta shipping update for you, right now. The giant shipment of boxes that we’ve been waiting for since March? It finally arrived! The boxes are in Sfoglini’s warehouse and they are filling those boxes as fast as they can, which means many more of you should be receiving your pasta very soon! If you ordered between March 23 and March 27, your order will go out by the end of June. Right after that, they’ll start shipping out the next batch. So thank you again for your patience. Thank you for all the photos you've ben sending of how you're cooking and eating your cascatelli. It makes me so happy to see how many of you are enjoying it. And for those of you who haven't gotten it yet, I promise it's coming. It’ll be worth the wait. Thank you.
Dan Pashman: Now, back to my conversation with Dr. Marcia Chatelain, author of Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America.
Dan Pashman: As we get into the 70s, McDonald’s is adding more and more Black franchisees. And those franchisees are getting some help from the administration of President Richard Nixon.
Marcia Chatelain: So the federal government of the 1970s is all over the place in terms of what to do with African-American voters. The Republicans have lost a lot of voters to the Democratic Party, but they have some loyalists. They have some people who are hanging on. And they also have celebrities like Wilt Chamberlain, like James Brown, who are willing to kind of make inroads with the Nixon administration for the purpose of platforming and expanding Black capitalism ideas. And so there's this like kind of uneasy, awkward, like we are going to get the most out of this Republican administration that we can. Meanwhile, Nixon is spying on Black activists. He's telling the FBI to essentially disrupt the Black Panthers and different freedom struggles. He is like messing with people's lives.
Dan Pashman: And he won the election using the southern strategy, which was—
Marcia Chatelain: Yeah, scaring white voters into thinking—
Dan Pashman: It wasn't even really a dog whistle.
Marcia Chatelain: Right.
Dan Pashman: It was just a whistle.
Marcia Chatelain: So something kind of interesting, so he's doing all this like bananas, racist stuff. And then he's also saying things like, I believe in Black power in the most constructive sense of the word, meaning I believe in segregated communities. And the way we build up segregated communities is we make investments in business and investments in housing, but we do it in a way that never has to kind of like disrupt any of the ideas about integration.
Dan Pashman: In other words, Nixon’s thinking is, use federal programs to invest in Black business, so that Black Americans do well enough that they have no reason to leave Black neighborhoods and move into white ones. Regardless of the intentions, Marcia says this increased investment in Black business fills many Black Americans with a new sense of possibility.
Marcia Chatelain: From the vantage point of 1968, anything is possible. People who had lived during a period in which African-Americans had to fear for their personal safety if they entered the wrong diner, were now in a position to create a business where people could ostensibly be treated well, that they could help youth, that a lot of the early Black franchise owners— and this continues to be a tradition. They use a lot of their money for scholarships.
Dan Pashman: So Black franchisees start getting McDonald’s, and they do very well. Partly through sheer will. And partly because of a range of other factors.
Marcia Chatelain: They do really well because they're competing in a field where a lot of restaurants, a lot of businesses have closed. They are backed by the capital and the strength of the McDonald's brand. And so people who wouldn't be able to get a loan for one kind of business are now able to get some backing and some financing to open a franchise. They're considered community positive. This is a moment in which Black consumer power is also rising. And then it's also being supported by some of the veterans of the civil rights movement, people like Jesse Jackson, people like Hosea Williams. They are also promoting business as an extension of MLK's dream. And so it's kind of like a very winning strategy.
Dan Pashman: And McDonald's takes notice.
Marcia Chatelain: Oh, McDonald's takes notice. They realize— I mean, they used to call them Black stores. They realized how well Black stores are doing and the Black franchisee's, and they're in this weird position because they are doing well, but they are doing well under some of the most difficult conditions. Their stores have been damaged. They have old equipment. They're sometimes operating in neighborhoods with a lot of high safety concerns. And through this, they form an organization to represent their needs and McDonald's tolerates it and listen to them on the advertising piece because they know that the Black consumer market is spending a lot of money at McDonald's. And in the 70s, there was a huge oil embargo. So people are not filling up their cars and going on vacations and they're not driving to McDonald's. But a lot of the urban clientele are walking to McDonald's. And there's a lot of reason to believe that that urban strategy allowed McDonald's to outperform its competitors in staying strong during the embargo.
Dan Pashman: As Black franchisees do better and better, they start pushing McDonald’s to let them open restaurants in white areas, the exact thing that many white people in power were trying to prevent when they got behind Black business in the first place. According to some Black store owners, McDonald’s basically says no.
Marcia Chatelain: Allegedly, Black franchisees are only offered opportunities in Black neighborhoods. And if you're white, that you get to choose for whatever you want. And the reason why this becomes important is because we know that depending on the racial demographic of a neighborhood, some of the costs of insurance, some of the costs of taxes in urban areas are different than suburban areas. And so the argument is that McDonald's limits the economic potential of its Black franchisees by employing the strategy. This is what has been alleged for a very long time.
Dan Pashman: It's like redlining but for franchises.
Marcia Chatelain: You said it, Dan. Yes, and people use that language. They use a lot of the language of residential segregation to talk about this franchise issue.
Dan Pashman: These allegations have been leveled against McDonald’s for decades. There have been multiple lawsuits going back to the 60’s. Many have been settled out of court. Some have been dismissed. And in at least one, the judge ruled for McDonald’s. Now there are two new ongoing cases. Marcia says that in the past cases that settled, McDonald’s has never admitted any discrimination.
Marcia Chatelain: There was a big case in the 80s involving this guy in L.A. He says, I want to expand and McDonald's retort back in the 80s was, well, don't you want to do business in your community? And he's like, I'm rich. I live in Bel Air. That is my community. And there's just like, really awkward kind of like, but you're doing this for your people. And him saying, but I'm rich now, so why do I only get these stores in South Los Angeles? So they settle and McDonald's says that he didn't make a cent off of the racial discrimination claims, that we were settling other issues. So that's usually how it goes down.
Dan Pashman: In the 80’s, while these discrimination lawsuits are going on, McDonald’s puts more focus on marketing to Black consumers, in ways that Marcia says are very positive. They sponsor events like Essence Fest and the McDonald’s Gospel Tour and they feature Black celebrities in their ads.
Marcia Chatelain: Michael Jordan, Patti LaBelle, all of these… like Gladys Knight for McDonald’s. This is really significant in a time where there were still questions about whether Black artists could be crossover hits. And Mcdonald’s has them in all their commercials. Again, these are not small things and I really want to recognize how expansive that shift was.
Dan Pashman: I mean, I have to say, I certainly have noticed in the last year or two, a big change more broadly in representation in commercials, big corporate food commercials on TV. When I was a kid in the 80s, McDonald’s commercials were one of the only places you would see Black families.
Marcia Chatelain: 100 percent. The creative material was really, really significant because they were using, for many years, a Black advertising agency. And then Burger King did that. And KFC did that. Right? But McDonald’s did it the best.
Dan Pashman: In the last few decades, McDonald’s efforts to connect with Black Americans have also extended to the food itself.
Marcia Chatelain: There's some regional specificities that I think are very much attuned to Black customers, like sweet tea in the south, the adding of grits. There was another product that didn't work so well. It was called a Mcbeef steak and you're supposed to have it with onion nuggets. And everyone's like, the onion nuggets give you gas and why would you try to eat a steak at McDonald's? But it's so interesting to look at the storyboards around it because it's all of this idea of working class Black people being able to treat themselves to something that was kind of like a steak dinner, but not.
Dan Pashman: It's interesting. I still keep thinking about this this quote that I saw back when the Popeye's Fried Chicken Sandwich went viral and The New York Times did an article. The headline was "Popeye's Sandwich Strikes a Chord for African-Americans". So they have a quote in here from a woman's Facebook post comparing the Popeye's Fried Chicken sandwich to Chick-fil-A's. It says Chick fil A's version, she wrote tasted, as if it were made, "by a white woman named Sarah, who grew up around Black people." The Popeye's sandwich, she added, tasted, "like it was cooked by an older black lady named Lucille."
Marcia Chatelain: Right. So that's perfect. And that kind of contextualization is like one person has a Black domestic and the other one might actually be the Black domestic. And it's something that I think about in my book a lot. Like, McDonald's is not a Black business, but in many ways it indexes ideas about Blackness and ideas about race in order to sell itself. There's a great book about Wal-Mart and evangelical Christians, and she writes, Wal-Mart is not a company for Christians but there's something about it that it's like very much tethered to kind of Southern evangelism. And I always think that's such a fascinating way of thinking of these like big brands, the way they try to kind of merge themselves onto cultures.
Dan Pashman: In the new millennium, the conversation around McDonald’s shifts towards new issues: obesity and food deserts in Black urban communities. But as Marcia explains, you can’t separate this issue from others.
Marcia Chatelain: We want to see more grocery stores in neighborhoods. That's fine. But I think one of the things that we see in the 2000s, some of the claims against racial discrimination against McDonald's on the part of franchise owners, the solution is open more minority owned stores, open more outlets, open more outlets. Well, when you open more outlets, then you have more people that you're feeding in this way and it's more space that's taken up by fast food and not other types of businesses. So I think sometimes we lose sight of what does a victory mean. This is not about what people eat. This is about the conditions in which people have to make choices. And one of the things that was really important to me was to not write a book that suggested that a person was bad because their kids eat fast food or they're bad because they eat fast food. But rather, if a person wanted to make a lot of choices about what they eat, do they have that opportunity and what is the history of limiting those opportunities for populations that don't have the power to call the shots?
Dan Pashman: So some good has come out of McDonald’s investment in black communities over the decades. But of course, those investments have not addressed deeper structural issues.
Marcia Chatelain: With the hindsight of fifty years, we knew that communities could not be rebuilt on the strength of a Black owned McDonald's. But from the vantage point of 1968, neighborhood businesses are closing and moving away. And McDonald's is like, here's this thing. Maybe this could help? I understand why it was so seductive.
Dan Pashman: Right, right. It’s hard not to see parallels to today.
Marcia Chatelain: I know, right?
Dan Pashman: Especially hearing you talk about the idea that maybe business will fix things.
Marcia Chatelain: If you look at the conversations that emerged after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis and you look at any of the major riot commission report from '68, from '65, from the 1940s, from the 1910s, they say very similar things. Right? The problem in our city is police brutality, poor quality jobs, over crowded schools for our children, lack of recreational space. All of those things are the origins of the crisis. It's so weird when you write a book during one period of time and the reference points start to shift. So initially, I think my book was this kind of like, oh, this interesting hidden history of Mcdonald's. But after last summer, it's like, wait a second. This is really weird. These are the kinds of conversations about business and investment that we're having now. And it's one of those few kind of approaches to racial injustice that isn't right or left. It's both. Right? Republicans and democrats, equally, will have a vision of economic investment for the purposes of addressing these issues. And then they will have people who are like, oh, this is such a new idea. And they will ignore why this didn't happen to fruition the last time.
Dan Pashman: What's your go to order these days, Marcia?
Marcia Chatelain: Well, OK. So I don't really eat McDonald's anymore.
Dan Pashman: OK. OK.
Marcia Chatelain: Yeah. So I just put— so here's the thing. I ate McDonald's for years, so like I'm not trying to be like judgie, Like I don't eat—
Dan Pashman: Right, right.
Marcia Chatelain: You know people who say, they don't watch TV? It's like, really?
Dan Pashman: Like, are you not a part of society?
Marcia Chatelain: It's like, how do you not?
Marcia Chatelain: So I don't want to be, like, elbow patches Mcgee, like I don't eat fast food. I don't watch TV. Like, I'm watching The Bachelor and Real Housewives all day.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Marcia Chatelain: When I used to go to McDonald's what I would really love, I liked the Quarter Pounder, the simplicity of the Quarter Pounder because the Big Mac was too aggressive. You know, got to get an order fries and a Coke. I really miss the original apple pie. Do you remember when we were kids? It's was like 9,000 degrees?
Dan Pashman: It was like deep fried?
Marcia Chatelain: When it was a proper fried pie? It could kill you if you bit into it too fast.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, yeah.
Marcia Chatelain: That was amazing. I thought the sundae was quite delicious. It was a nice dessert.
Dan Pashman: You have a baby now, Marcia,
Marcia Chatelain: I do. I know.
Dan Pashman: Are you gonna take him to McDonald's.
Marcia Chatelain: I just— you know, it's like, oh—
Dan Pashman: We're looking far off into the future. You don't have to commit right now.
Marcia Chatelain: I mean, I think about this because my husband likes fast food. He loves Taco Bell. I think someone will take him to McDonald's probably to troll me. But I think that I will not. Right? But he will know that, like, mommy's hot takes on capitalism ruins everything and he will still love me anyways. So that's how we're setting this up.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Dan Pashman: That’s Dr. Marcia Chatelain, professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown. Her substack newsletter about fast food and teaching is called Your Favorite Prof. Her book is Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America. If you want to hear more Mcdonal'ds stories? Check out last week's show about the young couple that hacked Mcdonald's ice cream machines to try to fix them and ended up with private investigators on their tail. It's a good one. It's up now.
Dan Pashman: Next week on the show we're opening the phonelines. You will call in with your food related disputes and disagreements. And I'll try to solve them with help from food writers Drew Magary and David Roth of Defector and The Distraction podcast. That's next week.