Behind the Scenes with Ken Berg, owner of the Lowell McDonald's
Lowell native Ken Berg is the owner of the Lowell McDonald's, currently under reconstruction. The restaurant is currently undergoing a reconstruction project that includes expansions, upgrades and high tech features.
“McDonald's came to all the owners in a two-day meeting in Chicago five years ago and said they had a program where they wanted each McDonald's to be re-imaged,” Berg said. “They called it 'a major reinvestment.' They said that many of the restaurants were 30 or 40 years old, and they said they would partner with the owners to pay pretty much half of the remodel. That will include inside and out, an entire new lobby, an entire new facade on the outside of the restaurant, digital menu boards inside and out and a kiosk for ordering in the lobby. It's been about five years to work it all out.”
Berg said he is using the request from the corporate office to “re-image” as an excuse to expand the restaurant a little.
“The request to re-image each restaurant is going to have to be a little different for Lowell,” Berg said. “We felt that the community had outgrown the restaurant, so we didn't want to just change the look of it. The kitchen was too small, the lobby was too small and so were the cooler, freezer and storage area. The old PlayPlace has already been taken out. I think the old PlayPlace was over 20 years old, so it was time to put in the new one. It is being moved a little inside the building and it is a little bit smaller, but every element will be brand new.”
There will be a ribbon cutting celebration at the site when the project is complete, currently scheduled for sometime in December.
“The construction company seems to be working at a brisk place and we're doing very well,” Berg said. “The main company we hired was Newhof Construction out of Caledonia. They're known as one of the top builders of McDonald's in the state and they using mainly local subcontractors from West Michigan.”
The Berg family has been in the McDonald's business in some capacity since the 1970s. Through his company, Berg Investments, he currently owns a total of four McDonald's restaurants in West Michigan: the Lowell, Ada, Comstock Park and Northland Dr. locations.
“My dad, Larry Berg, used to work for a franchise owner by the name of Al Symons, who owned about six McDonald's in the Grand Rapids area,” Berg said. “My dad sort of ran his organization in the late 70s and early 80s. We lived in Lowell, we always have. I remember when we opened the Lowell store in 1984. My dad actually approached Al on looking at Lowell for the possibility of putting a McDonald's in town. He said, 'It's kind of a small town, but it's growing, I think this is a great spot, and our family is from this area.' But he really did that with the dream of someday owning it. There wasn't much going on in Lowell then, it was before Meijer and a lot of the other restaurants opened. It was just a quaint, little town that was growing, and I don't think people realized how much it was going to grow. At some point around 1987 or 1988, Al Symons sold all of his restaurants to the McDonald's corporation. My dad did o't have the opportunity to buy them, and he became an employee of the McDonald's corporation. But he still wanted to become an owner, he was approved to become an owner, he [saved] the money to buy one and he was actively trying to buy the Lowell McDonald's, but the corporation said it wasn't for sale, they weren't going to sell it. Eventually, my dad bought his first McDonald's, in Grand Rapids at 36th and Division. Over the next eight years he was able to get up to six restaurants. In 2002, he had the opportunity to buy the Lowell, Ionia and Lake Odessa locations. That was a big moment for our family. About seven and a half years ago, as Larry got older and ready to retire, he ended up selling half of his restaurants to my brother and half to me. I became the owner of the McDonald's in Lowell at that time.”
You might not think of a McDonald's as a family business, but many locations are owned by independent franchisees, and many of these are family businesses.
“I have literally worked for McDonald's since I was 18 years old,” Berg said. “I remember counting inventory with my dad so I could get a free ice cream cone when I was seven years old, but I started as a crewperson and learned everything that I could coming up. This truly is a family business, I got to work next to my dad for 18 straight years learning the business. This restaurant means a lot to me.”