ROCK SPRINGS — Local McDonald’s owner and operator Greg Bailey is celebrating his 50 year career that all started in 1973 in Arizona.
This Friday, Nov. 17, a 50th anniversary celebration will take place at the McDonald’s on 1687 Sunset Dr., which is the restaurant that launched Bailey’s career as an owner and operator in the McDonald’s franchise. Before Bailey owned his own restaurants, however, his career started as a grill person at a university McDonald’s in Arizona.
“I started my career on November 23, 1973 in Tucson, Arizona, as a college job at the University of Arizona,” Bailey told SweetwaterNOW. “I was a grill person so I just worked in the kitchen area, and I wanted to get up front and learn more.”
Bailey credits his work ethic for getting him from the grill to where he is now as the owner and operator of all three Sweetwater County McDonald’s locations.
“It was just hard work, basically,” he said of his speedy promotion from grill person to shift manager, which took just five months. By June of 1976, Bailey was the store manager, just a few months after he left college.
“I was trying to go to school and work at the same time, and I found out that was very difficult to do. Especially when you’re on your own. Back in those days I started out at $1.60 an hour,” he said. “I ended up leaving school in December of ’75 and then in June of ’76 they promoted me to store manager, so I was 21 years old.”
He took over as the supervisor of four restaurants in 1979 where he would watch over operations at the locations and fill in for employees while they were on vacation.
“You really learned how a business works because you’re working in different environments with different people, you’re working in different volume situations, different traffic patterns,” Bailey said. He discovered that every restaurant is different. “Even the restaurants here in Sweetwater County.”
Bailey said that while the Sunset location attracts residential and business patrons mostly, the Elk Street location receives most of its traffic from travelers off the highway. Since Green River is more of a bedroom community, the restaurant is more family-oriented.
In 1983, Bailey left Arizona with his first wife to supervise five restaurants in Colorado. He then moved back to Tuscon after his wife’s father passed away, and there he supervised two restaurants, which eventually became three, until 1995. He remarried during that time and has had Cindy by his side ever since. It was in 1995 that Bailey made major moves towards becoming an owner and operator of his own restaurants.
“I had a goal of always opening my own McDonalds… my wife agreed that’s what we would do, so we moved in that direction,” he said.
Journey to Rock Springs
Bailey applied to be an owner operator, which included a four hour interview of which Cindy was required to be there, as she would be part of the operation. And she was, working out of a home office for the first 10 years of owning their own restaurants. “She did all the books, paid all the bills,” he said.
He was approved to be an owner and operator in January 1995, and he immediately started looking for a location to operate.
“I didn’t have a lot of financial resources but had enough money I could get a restaurant on a lease basis,” Bailey said.
It wasn’t until October 1995 when Bailey got an offer in Rock Springs. “We had a couple other opportunities [in Colorado] and they all fell through, they gave them to existing owner operators,” he said.
In September of 1995, Bailey contacted the regional manager to ask when he thought they’d have another opportunity.
“I found out that he wasn’t sharing our name with other regions because he wanted me in the region because he liked me based on the two pitches I had done,” he said. The regional manager said at that time that Bailey probably wouldn’t get another offer until June 1996, but luckily, the call from Rock Springs came the very next month.
“I took over the store effective January 2, 1996, and retained all the people there,” Bailey said. “They told us that this deal could potentially be a three store deal.” By August 8, 1998 the Elk Street location was open for business, and he bought the Green River location in 2000.
Taking Care of People
Throughout Bailey’s career, he has prioritized leading by example and taking care of his employees and customers. “Everything we do is going to be done by our people so you’ve got to take care of your people,” he said.
Bailey said that ever since he opened up his first McDonald’s restaurant, he has offered vacation time to his employees. He also put a 401K in place in the early 2000s.
“I had a special needs employee at one of my restaurants and she was able to take the money out of her 401K and buy a house, so that was pretty cool,” Bailey said.
Bailey said that McDonald’s also offers the Archways to Opportunity program, in which McDonald’s will pay for employees’ college tuition and help them get their GEDs.
“We’ve had several people who have gotten their GEDs, we’ve had several people who have gotten their college degrees working at McDonald’s, being subsidized by us,” Bailey said.
Currently, he said his stores have what’s called the Honor Roll, which is an incentive program where the staff meets the goals of restaurant to earn points that can turn into gift cards for over 300 different places.
“It’s a win-win,” Bailey said. “It’s all about people taking care of people.”
Bailey said 1 in 8 Americans have worked at McDonald’s at some point in their careers. He takes pride in knowing he has helped many people gain valuable skills that they can carry with them in their careers, whether they are only with the restaurant for a little while, or they stay with McDonald’s for years.
“It’s a great stepping stone for people to learn how to be on time, how to work with people, how to take direction, how to interact with customers, which are traits they can all use later on in life with wherever they go,” he said.
While many people leave McDonald’s, he said he just recently celebrated one of his employees’ 10 years of service, and his supervisor of 27 years just recently retired.
“It’s not a dead end career like some people think, you’re not just flipping burgers, which we don’t do anymore… you can go as far as you want to go,” he said.
Challenges and Highlights Throughout the Years
During his 50-year career, Bailey said the most consistent and noticeable challenge has been staffing.
“Especially in the boom periods here,” he said. “During the big boom in 2000, I ended up using J-1 students, which were college students from foreign countries who came here to work.”
Those employees would stay in the community for three to four months at a time before returning to their home countries to continue their education. Bailey said he had one employee from Peru who came back four years in a row, which showed Bailey that he was succeeding in treating his employees well. He said that while the students were here, they would try to do things with the kids to make their time in Wyoming more enjoyable.
“We took them up to Yellowstone every time,” he said.
At one point in time, Bailey said that 37 of his 111 employees were J-1 students.
“A third of my work force was from foreign countries,” he said. “The bad part about it was they’re here for short periods of time so you’ve got to train them, and then once they get used to it, they have to leave. And then you have to start all over again.”
Bailey has also had many highlights to his career, one of which is achieving 50 years in the business.
“That was one of my goals, to be here for 50 years,” he said. His other proudest achievement is his Ronald Award, which he received in 2010 and is only given to the top 1% of operators. “It’s given to operators who give back to their community, give back to McDonald’s, and have restaurants that are highly performing. That’s an achievement I’m very, very proud of.”
Community is Key
Bailey earned the Ronald Award in part by his contribution to the community. He believes that it is very important to give back to the community as much as possible.
“Without the community, I wouldn’t be successful,” he said. He makes it his mission to sponsor local events as much as he can, anywhere from rodeos to the fair to little league baseball, and even school events such as McTeacher nights and McWish for Make-A-Wish.
“Whenever someone needs something, if they ask, 9 times out of 10 we’ll be able to give it to them,” he said.
Bailey and his wife, Cindy, also acts as a liaisons in the community, serving on several different boards. Cindy is part of the Western Wyoming Community College Foundation, International Day, travel and tourism, and Bailey is on the planning and zoning commission. They both are involved with the Sweetwater Kiwanis Club, and while Cindy sits on the Meritus Board for the Ronald McDonald House in Salt Lake City, where she was previously the president, Bailey is the finance chair.
“That’s our charity of choice. We support that charity because of the impact it has even in our community. There’s probably 200 plus families every year from Sweetwater County that go down to the house,” Bailey said.
Celebrating 50 Years
After five decades working with McDonald’s, Bailey said a lot is different from when he started.
“I’ve seen it change a lot. You know, Big Macs aren’t 70 cents anymore,” he said.
Not only has the work ethic of employees changed over the years, as well as customer expectations, but they have also moved more into the technical and digital world. He said that when they brought the kiosks into the lobbies, many people thought they were trying to cut down on staffing. However, Bailey said they were actually placed inside the restaurants to increase capacity and to allow more people to order.
“You’re always reinvesting back into the business to make it current,” he said. “There’s always something. One thing I like about McDonald’s is no two days are the same.”
Bailey said that he is very thankful to the McDonald’s franchise for the opportunities it has given him. While he has worked hard over the past 50 years, he acknowledges that the franchise’s name and status has been important for his success.
“If it said Greg’s Burgers, there’s probably not as many people who would stop by my restaurants as there would be with it saying McDonald’s. So I’m blessed that I’m part of the McDonald’s franchise. I’ve been rewarded a lot. I just want to give back because of that,” he said.
The community is invited to celebrate 50 years with Bailey this Friday at the Sunset McDonald’s location from 4-8 p.m. While Big Macs are no longer 70 cents, patrons can get burgers for 50 cents during that four hour time slot at the Sunset location only, with a limit of 10 burgers per customer.