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FUTURE OF DINING?

appears in the business section of the Chicago Tribune.
Chicago Tribune, By Gloria Casas | For Courier-News Gloria Casas is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.

When the ribbon is cut Aug. 31 on the latest incarnation of the McDonald’s at 1480 Larkin Ave., the Elgin restaurant will boast a dining room seen in fewer than 200 locations nationally and one that could be the prototype for the future.

Diners will be seated at tables like those found at sit-down restaurants, their orders placed at one of four kiosks and delivered to them by restaurant staff, if they so choose. Gone will be the self-serve soda dispenser and the open-view kitchen. The ventilation system will be constantly disinfecting and sterilizing the air.

It’s a far cry from the goldenarched McDonald’s that Marcelle Bear purchased in 1967, with a walk-up window to place orders and four seats inside.

But neither is it just another of the nearly 40,000 McDonald’s found all over the world.

“This particular restaurant tested so many things,” said David Bear, whose family now owns 32 of the iconic burger franchises. “It was one of the test restaurants for the Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Happy Meal. It was the original site for the sideby-side drive-thru (lanes), the very first one created in the world (by his father, Jerry).

“This restaurant has a long history of being innovative and setting the stage for the future of the brand,” he said.

And it all started with the family matriarch, one-time secretary to McDonald’s then-Vice President Fred Turner, who decided she wanted to own one of the company’s restaurants herself.

Close friend June Martino, secretary to McDonald’s owner Ray Kroc, helped Marcelle Bear secure the franchise. Marcelle’s husband, Jerry, soon joined her and the couple purchased their second restaurant on Summit Avenue in 1969.

Sons David and Marc would join the family business later and eventually succeed their father, who died in 2019.

“My mother has an incredible, extraordinary rags-to-riches story,” David Bear said. She’s “an individual completely focused on excellence and changing things. When people told her it was impossible to do something, she did it,” he said.

Marcelle Bear was born in Morocco in North Africa, and her

family migrated first to France and then to the U.S. via Mexico, Bear said.

At the time she bought her franchise, she was one of a very small number of women in the Elgin area to be a business owner, he said. And like Jerry, she was an innovator.

When she first started, she noticed the uniforms McDonald’s provided did not fit women, Bear said. So she designed her own, redesigning a hospital uniform for her female employees to wear. McDonald’s would later follow suit, providing both men and women with sex-appropriate uniforms, he said.

Jerry’s addition to the company — the two-lane drive-thru system — debuted at the Larkin Avenue restaurant in 1986.

“Back in the day, no one believed in it. They thought it was silly,” David Bear said. It’s now used throughout the world, he said.

Bear said the second generation owners are particularly proud of their own addition, the ultra-violet pathogen air system that has been installed at the Larkin Avenue restaurant and five others they own.

During the pandemic, “we started to scour the country to learn what safety measures we could incorporate into our restaurants,” Bear said. “I wanted to go above and beyond and treat the air we are breathing. As a result, this was the best technology that gave us the highest level of pathogen elimination that didn’t require much human intervention. It works 24/7.”

The technology kills viruses, including cold and flu droplets, he said. “There’s an 80% reduction in pathogens in the restaurants (where it’s used),” he said.

It and the other dining room changes will be unveiled at an invitation-only ribbon-cutting event, Bear said. His mother will be among the dignitaries in attendance, he said.

“This restaurant has a long history of being innovative and setting the stage for the future of the brand.” — David Bear, whose family now owns 32 of the iconic burger franchises

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