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New chapter for owners of area staple

Ron and Sue McDonald pose this week in the dining room of McDonald's Family Restaurant in Fairbury / EOCI photo.

FAIRBURY – Ron and Sue McDonald have many fond memories running McDonald’s Family Restaurant in Fairbury over the years.

“It’s been an experience,” Sue said while sitting in the restaurant’s dining room recently.

The McDonald family has announced that the popular local eatery along U.S. Highway 24 is for sale. They plan to keep running the restaurant like normal until there is a buyer. The couple agrees the time has come to start exploring other options.

“There comes a time, I think, when you decide that you should move on,” Sue acknowledged. “You get tired, so we made the big decision and here we are.”

Running a restaurant, like any business, is a time consuming seven day a week job but rewarding at the same time, according to the McDonalds. Their loyal customers are one of the main reasons they have been in Fairbury for over 60 years. Ron’s mom and dad opened the business in 1956.

“Now, we are hiring grandkids of the kids who worked for us when it first opened, so that tells you it’s old. We’re old,” Sue joked.

McDonald’s Restaurant began in an old building located nearby. A former gas station had a café in close proximity – which is what Ron’s parents bought in the 1950s. The current building was constructed during the next decade.

“Ron and I were in Galesburg and we came back when Ron’s father passed away. We’ve been here ever since,” recalled Sue.

A bar and banquet facilities were added over the years, although the true family atmosphere is what makes the restaurant stand out. Diners have always been able to enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner specials along with popular weekend buffets. The east dining room also serves as a place where the world’s problems are solved over coffee. A faithful group of locals fill the tables each morning and afternoon.

Since several of those coffee drinkers have moved to Fairview Haven Retirement Community, McDonald’s staff delivered cinnamon rolls there a couple of weeks ago for a reunion of the old coffee crowd. The early morning customers typically file in around 5:30 a.m. each day.

“I don’t know what would happen if we opened at 6,” Sue said.

A few memories stand out more than others to the McDonalds, such as controversy with the fast food chain of the same name and a fire which gutted the inside of the building.

The McDonalds fast food chain opened a restaurant on west Oak Street back in the 1990s where the Fairbury branch of First State Bank of Forrest is located today. The local McDonald family and corporate representatives from the other business had confrontations over the name. You could say, in this case, small business prevailed as the fast food chain decided to eventually leave town.

“They had a team of lawyers come down and practically insist we (change the name) but we said no, we can’t do that,” Ron recalled.

News of the McDonalds Corporation leaving town brought several happy bikers down from Chicago one Saturday. Ron said they made symbols and he found the whole situation amusing.

“I can’t repeat some of the language, but they were very happy an independent won over the big corporations.”

McDonald’s Restaurant experienced a fire in 2014 which severely damaged the building’s interior, even though the outside walls were fine. Everything inside has been replaced such as kitchen equipment, booths and tables. New restrooms were even added during the remodeling process.

“When I first walked in that morning of the fire, I thought maybe we can get this back in a couple of weeks. Boy was I surprised – it was from July 10 to December 8 we were closed,” Sue noted.

The couple believes the business would not be what it is today without the customer support. In fact, the McDonalds likely hired or worked with a member of your family during their years in operation.

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