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The Burrells

By Sadie Fowler

When we think of the golden arches, we likely think of Big Macs, cheeseburgers, French fries or perhaps even a creamy or sweet drink from the restaurant’s café. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, when we crave comfort McDonald’s has been a go to place to get it for many decades.

Its global brand appeal is unmatchable, which is why some are surprised to learn that nearly 90 percent of the United States’ nearly 14,000 locations of McDonald’s are locally owned and operated — and in 13 locations in the South Central Kentucky area (plus one in Portland, Tennessee), the faces behind the arches are those from the Burrell family.

The business venture started with Alex Burrell’s grandfather. Her father later became involved, followed by her own involvement as well the involvement of some of her siblings, including Michael Burrell and Kelsey Hamlet.

“My grandfather wanted to do something different so he approached McDonald’s and they initially turned him down, saying he was too old and fat,” laughed Alex, adding eventually they changed their minds. Her grandfather launched his first store in Franklin, Kentucky in 1974.
Paul Burrell, a school teacher in his first career, eventually became involved. Paul’s passion for the business carried over into his own family, as he taught his children the ropes from a young age and led by example.

“Dad is very humble and very giving,” said Alex, describing her father and the influence he’s had in her life. “We were raised that you do things for the betterment of the community; not to get your name out. It’s always about what’s right, and being a good steward in the community.”
Giving back to the Bowling Green community and driving its economy as well (they employee about 800 people) matter greatly to the Burrells. Whether it’s hiring a single mom, a young person starting out, or giving back to the community through one of its initiatives, the Burrells indeed care about Bowling Green.

“Dad has done so much in the community that people don’t even know about,” Michael added. “And I hear stories all the time about ‘your granddad helped so and so out.’ Dad has seen a lot of changes over the years. Drive-thrus, for example, weren’t in all the stores back in the day and now 80 percent of business comes from them.”

Paul Burrell said working with his children has been a fun experience, though he never had any hard and fast expectations that they worked in the family business.

“I never wanted them to feel obligated to join the business unless this is what they wanted to do,” he said. “You need to get a good education and be a self-starter; being able to work without direction. You also have to realize that there are going to be many challenges that you face and that you have to be persistent in order to make things better and move ahead.”
Alex and Michael explained they are constantly looking ahead and adapting to change in their quest to stay fresh and successful. For example, they’ve just unveiled ordering kiosks at their location at 3080 Scottsville Rd.

“We take great pride in listening to our customers, and we appreciate and value their feedback,” said their dad, Paul Burrell. “We’re looking forward to serving great food to our guests with this updated, modern experience.”

And who would have ever thought McDonald’s would serve breakfast all day or fresh Quarter Pounders?

“We are changing every day because that is what you have to do to be successful,” Michael said.

Paul added he has seen great changes in technology, complexity and constant menu changing over the years.

“Despite all the changes to the menu and infrastructure over the years, it has always been reassuring that McDonald’s has stayed true to the quality, service and cleanliness standards that Ray Kroc had.”

Michael and Alex are both third generation operators, with their sister Kelsey being considered a next generation operator. They share the responsibilities of running all of the family’s 14 locations.

Alex, a graduate of Belmont University in Nashville Tennessee (she has a degree in accounting in addition to her MBA), knew early on she wanted to play a role in the family business. Her favorite thing about her career is the lives she touches.

“You meet a lot of people and you have a chance to change lives and help people out,” she said. “When we hire someone and train them and see them succeed, or go out in the world and do a lot of good, it warms your heart.”

Michael echoed his sister’s thoughts on enjoying his job as it relates to people, adding he likes the connectivity the job offers and the relationships he’s established with those who make it all happening; suppliers, vendors, farmers, drivers, people from the warehouse, etc.

“It all goes far beyond the store,” he said. “It’s like a three-legged stool and we all depend on each other. There’s the vendors, the corporation and then there’s us … The benefit of our brand recognition has a lot of power, but many people don’t realize there’s a face behind the store.”
The Burrells face a variety of challenges daily, but no two days are the same. One day it might be an equipment issue and the next day it might be that the interstate is backed up and a flood of people have swarmed in one of their stories and they have to quickly react and jump in.
“McDonald’s is a lifestyle,” Alex said. “You’re on call all the time. You might be driving by one store and see it backed up and ask yourself, ‘should I stop?’ and chances are yes, we’re going to stop.”

Their dedication is deep, not a surprise given the work ethic of their own father and grandfather. Nonetheless, surprises come to the Burrells every day.

“I never realized all the hats you had to where,” said Michael. “It’s not just about selling food. There’s insurance, instructions, meetings and a lot of things you have to be an expert in … We all, as a family, have our own niches in terms of what we’re experts in, so that helps.”

Alex said something that has surprised her about McDonald’s is how diversified it has become. She said the café, for example, includes anything you could get from a regular coffee house.
“I remember when we had to go to a customized class in Nashville when we started adding cream and sugar to coffees for the customer, and that was just cream and sugar,” she laughed.
In terms of misconceptions the public might have about McDonald’s, Alex is quick to point out that people might not necessarily realize how good the quality of things they serve actually is. Again, the fresh meat Quarter Pounder serves as a prime example. Also, by 2025, McDonald’s has a goal to use only eggs that are cage free at all of its locations.

The customization is also another highlight of the menu from Alex’s perspective. People don’t have to eat unhealthy just because they’re at a fast food chain. Menu items, such as her favorite thing — the egg white delight — help staying on course easier for patrons.

Michael, on the other hand, says his favorite item on the menu is usually whatever they are promoting at the time. It may be something he hasn’t eaten in a while but when the promotions come it he gets on a kick with that particular item for a while.

“Right now, I’m really into the Quarter Pounder,” he laughed.

When the Burrells aren’t at work, which is rare, they enjoy the things most close-knit families enjoy. They all live near each other, go to church together, and simply love being together whenever possible.

Michael enjoys spending time at home with his family, watching Impractical Jokers and gardening from time to time. Alex, on her spare time, finds relaxation out of her love for baking. She often brings in sample products to her employees at the store.

“We have great people working here,” Michael said. “We have great managers, supervisors and just a great team in general that are so good at running the ship it makes it a lot easier to go home at night. A lot of operators can’t just hand it over, but we can and we are grateful for that.”

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