Wednesday, June 11, 2014


In the summer of 1992, Time Warner (before AOL) owned Six Flags Over Mid-America, and they made a generous proposal. They allowed McDonald's to take over three of the park's restaurants. An eatery in the center became a full-service Golden Arches. A burger joint on the east end transformed into "McDonald's Hamburger Express," and another one on the west end near Old Chicago transformed into "McDonald's Pizza Express" at a time when the burger behemoth was thinking outside the bun.

Immediately, the park's self-run hash houses felt the pressure. When kids had the choice of an unknown dive and the familiar happy meal, guess where they pulled their parents? Banners went up outside other Six Flags restaurants offering combo meals for supposedly competitive prices. Guests weren't swayed, and they packed the central McDonald's. Even park workers went there, snubbing the food at their private "All-Star Cafe" for Big Macs and the famous fries. Getting a 50 percent employee discount wasn't bad, either.

Two months later, McDonald's found out they were losing the two Express locations. Immediately, conspiracy theories emerged. Were they too successful for their own good? Had Time Warner, in a fit of corporate stupidity, set them up to fail to protect the park's own? The theory had legs. Food Service workers got an extra fifty cents an hour to sling the grub where grease was the word. Even so, it still wasn't much of an incentive, considering most Six Flags workers made less than minimum wage because they were technically part-timers: they worked a steady job during the summer, but only during the summer -- and weekends in the late spring and fall.

Further rumblings down the rumor wire revealed a contrary story. The express locations weren't pulling their weight in sales, especially compared to the central location. The park could support one Mickey D's, not three. Food Service took back their former territories, continuing to serve hamburgers and pizza -- just not from McDonalds.

The central location immediately boosted its staffing and raised prices, making the park's location more expensive than their outside stores. Six Flags axed the employee discount. McDonald's remained a few more years, outlasting my stint with the park.

Now, even the central location is gone, turned back into a Food Service location. This Google Maps photo from 2011 shows it:

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In the battle of corporate giants, it truly is eat or be eaten.

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