It's an ironic title, because technically, Ray Kroc (Michael
Keaton) wasn't The Founder of McDonald's.
In 1954, Ray Kroc was a 52-year-old traveling salesman, having a
rough go of selling milk shake machines to owners of drive-in hamburger
joints. He kept telling the
owners that having a fast supply would push the demand higher, but he's
shown here enduring a lot of doors slammed in his face.
And then a compensatory swig of his flask in his car afterwards.
Followed by the obligatory evening phone call to his
long-suffering (first) wife Ethel (Laura Dern), where he continues to
tell her that there's a lot of potential out there.
As if he's trying to convince himself.
Not the kind of guy you would have pegged to become a
multibillionaire. But he was
amazed when he learned that a hamburger joint in San Bernadino,
California had ordered six of those milk-shake machines.
And he's so curious about this restaurant that he drives all the
way from Illinois to see for himself.
And what he finds there astounds him even more.
It seems that two brothers, Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) and Mac
McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) had developed a fast, efficient way to
cook hamburgers, by making them all precisely the same.
No custom orders. No
chicken or hot dogs, either. Just
crank 'em out as rapidly as possible.
Then instead of car hops taking individual orders (often on
roller skates), let the people stand in line at the window.
And eat out of paper wrappings and styrofoam cups.
No trays, no dishes. Ray Kroc stood in a long line, but was
amazed at how fast the service was.
Eat your burger outside on a bench or inside your car.
Throw your own trash away. Simple,
efficient, cheap, and quick. Ray
Kroc wanted a piece of that action, so he quickly contracted with the
McDonald brothers to expand. They'd
tried it before, they said, but were concerned about quality control in
other locations. Ray Kroc
set out to sell franchises, but soon learned that individual owners
were, indeed, hard to control. He
also wasn't making very much money at it, until he was given some
critical advice: don't sell
the franchises, lease them, and make the quality control a condition of
Now the franchises were starting to spread, and Ray Kroc was
starting to really make some money, for the first time in his life.
And he liked the feeling. Tired
of continually sparring with the McDonald brothers over new innovations
(like powdered ice cream, later evolving into “softserve”), he
eventually just bought them out (Dick's health problems probably a
motivating factor, though even the terms of the buyout deal were
disputed afterwards.) The
original McDonald brothers were now prevented from using their own name,
and their attempt at re-vamping their original San Bernadino location
failed, because, well, it wasn't McDonald's.
Not the way the American public had now come to expect.
With the original brothers now out of the picture, Ray Kroc began
presenting himself as “The Founder,” because in his mind, he was the
one who parlayed the idea into a commercial success.
He also ditched his (second, though the movie doesn't even
mention her) wife for the wife of a franchisee, Joan Smith (Linda
Cardellini). So he's a hard
person to like, the way he's presented here, but you have to admire his
ambition, and his perseverance, and his business savvy.
Michael Keaton is very convincing in this role of the veteran
salesman with the fire in his belly, who was not at all afraid to take a
risk for a product he believed in (even mortgaging his own home).
Ray Kroc died in 1984, with more millions than he and Joan could
even spend, so they set up a charitable foundation that donated a lot to
various causes. But the real
legacy of Ray Kroc is of the milk-shake machine salesman who was
unafraid to recruit a bible salesman or a fry cook to help him build his
hamburger empire, because he recognized drive and ambition in others as
readily as he embraced it for himself.