Downtown McDonald’s serves its final burgers

Posted: Sunday, January 02, 2011

 The Big Macs have officially moved out of downtown, but those golden arches may rise again later at another downtown location. McDonald’s closed its Front Street restaurant on Friday, sending its employees and customers to the Mendenhall Valley restaurant.

MICHAEL PENN / THE JUNEAU EMPIRE
MICHAEL PENN / THE JUNEAU EMPIRE

Those employees, some of whom have been there since the beginning, felt sadness at saying good-bye to the familiar place after so long, but see the bright spots in the restaurant’s future.

Co-owner Mike White was there with the rest of crew on the final day. He said there was a genuine doleful sense among the employees and the customers, many of whom are familiar faces.

“It’s been a pretty sad day,” he said. “Some of the crew had tears in their eyes.”

“A lot of customers have expressed their sadness at us leaving,” he said.

White will miss being at this particular location. Over the years, he and his crew have served and become familiar with governors, state officials and legislators. Of course, they have been a welcome sight for the tourists every summer as well. White said these tourists will be greatly missed since many legislators will make the drive out to the Valley restaurant yet cruise visitors will not.

As for the local customers, White and store manager Melba Caparas said most of them have become first-name friends with the crew over the years, and many have vowed to travel to the Valley location starting this week. However, White said some simply cannot travel that far for a meal.

“They will be the ones we miss the most,” he said.

The restaurant’s closing does not mean a permanent end for a downtown McDonald’s, nor for its employees. White said all employees are transferring to the Valley McDonald’s, keeping their same positions.

“One hundred percent are going to the Valley,” he sad.

He said 15 employees have already transferred since the season ended, with another 19 left to go after the closing.

Caparas said this will be an easy adjustment. She has sent many downtown crew members to help out at the Valley location, so they are familiar with it.

White said he is searching for another downtown location for another McDonald’s. He’s hoping to find one that will allow for a drive-thru.

“Right now, McDonald’s real estate is looking at locations currently available and hopefully will put something together,” he said.

In the meantime, the crew will have to leave its downtown familiarity behind. Caparas said this is the hardest part of it. Like many of the others, talking with familiar faces every day has become part of the job.

“I love all our customers, and that is the one thing we’re going to miss,” Caparas said. “All our people are in town and you know most of them. It’s really hard to say goodbye.”

She said many customers have expressed the same sentiments to her and the others over the last few weeks. Many have promised to make the trip to the Valley.

“They’re sad too that we’re leaving because they’re used to seeing us every day,” she said.

Caparas has been the store manager since the restaurant opened in 1986. Like the others, she will be keeping her position when she goes to the Valley location.

White owns the McDonald’s restaurants in Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, along with Bill and Beni Laliberte.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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