ROTTERDAM — Around noon Wednesday, 124 days after the last burger was served at the old McDonald’s on Altamont Avenue, the staff took the orange cones out of the driveway of the new McDonald’s.
Moments later, with contractors on ladders still fine-tuning various systems and details, the first lunchtime customers started walking in.
Such is the draw of the venerable hamburger franchise: With no billboard announcements or other advance notice, if you build it they will come.
Owner-operator Joe Rodriguez, who has 32 other McDonald’s restaurants in New York, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts, said he spent more than $3 million on demolition and construction — perhaps $3.4 million, he hasn’t tallied it up yet.
It will take a lot of sales off the Dollar Menu to make that back, but he’s confident enough in the prospect that he’s spent $15 million on construction at multiple sites over the last five years.
A key part of this is efficiency of operation — turning out high volumes of food as quickly as possible without pre-cooking it. Mike Hyland, area manager for Rodriguez’s local restaurants, pointed out various features at the new 1637 Altamont Ave. restaurant that make this possible:
- Dual drive-through lanes, so twice as many customers can be served at once;
- Compartmentalized work stations, so kitchen workers need not move around and bump into each other;
- A conveyor belt to whisk food from preparer to server with neither person having to walk from station to station.
Other features of the rebuild include touch-screen order panels for customers, Wi-Fi service, Mobile Order and Pay, McDelivery (for the Rotterdam area), tableside service and a high-ceiling playroom/partyroom with its own bathroom available for private events.
Rodriguez thanked the staff and the midlevel managers for their work getting the restaurant up and running, thanked God for making it all possible, then opened the doors.
The first tot began clambering up the playroom equipment around the same time an employee handed the first burger to a paying customer.
Meanwhile, a contractor on a ladder connected the table-service routing system amid a tangle of wires dangling from the ceiling. Another contractor tested the heating system and turned the crisply cool restaurant into a hot box in a short space of time.
Despite all this, it was a relatively smooth first few minutes of business. But they’ve been practicing. The 80 full- and part-time employees are a mix of workers from the old restaurant and new hires. Most worked at Rodriguez’s other area McDonald’s locations while the Altamont Avenue store was offline, so they weren’t coming into Wednesday’s soft opening unprepared.
The formal grand opening will be at 2 p.m. Monday with guests including former New York Yankee Bucky Dent and Tri-City ValleyCats mascot Southpaw.
The restaurant will be open around the clock.
Rodriguez, 47, is a Brooklyn native who started working legally in a relative’s McDonald’s at age 13 but unofficially started even younger. His career ambitions initially pointed toward the medical field but later turned to McDonald’s, where he’s done every job over the years. The first restaurant he owned was in West Haven, Connecticut, and he now calls that state home.
He has 33 locations employing 1,800 people. It’s a widespread network, but he has a team of district managers like Hyland, each responsible for a few restaurants.