By Johnny Jackson
Ray Justice greeted Guirlene Edouard with a familiar smile, and she returned the gesture.
Justice said the warmth he gets from regular customers, like Edouard, is affirmation that the past 50 years as a businessman were not in vain.
The 76-year-old recently celebrated 50 years as an owner-operator with McDonald's.
Over the years, he has owned as many as 15 McDonald's restaurants in the Southern Crescent area. He currently owns, and operates, two McDonald's restaurants, one at Mt. Zion Parkway in Morrow, and the other at Hudson Bridge Road in Stockbridge.
Justice, who opened the Hudson Bridge Road location in 2008, has seen many successes despite the weak economy. "We completed a year in June, and in July, August and September, our sales were up 20 percent over a year ago, he said. "When most businesses are flat, we improved. I attribute that to her [Amy Justice, his wife] being there since March."
Justice's wife of nine years is currently training at the Hudson Bridge Road location to become an owner-operator at his two McDonald's restaurants. "I love the people aspect of it on both sides [of the counter]," said Amy Justice. "We've made a lot of friends here.
Her husband was honored as being among the longest-standing owner-operators in the McDonald's company, during the McDonald's Regional Operators Association Atlanta region conference held recently. "Hamburgers have been very good for him," added Amy Justice.
During the conference, members of the operators association presented Ray Justice with a commemorative watch and a scrapbook filled with well-wishes and notes from other owner-operators.
"I always thought -- when am I going to hang my hat up?" said Ray Justice. "If I make 50 years, then that's all I can ask for. I've been in the system 50 years in October."
Justice, who began his McDonald's career as a server more than five decades ago, was able to mark his 50th year in business with record-high sales just last week, heading into the holidays.
"We had record-breaking days [in sales] on Friday and Saturday," he said proudly. "I attribute that to us being there and taking care and treating people right. There is something to the 'mom and pop' place."
Justice has lived in the Stockbridge area since 1976, which he said, helps make him a more active owner-operator at the store.
"When your people know, not only your employees, but your customers know that we're local and not from Chicago, they appreciate it," he said. "It does mean a lot when the owner-operator lives in a neighborhood and is there everyday."
The restaurant's location, he added, being near a 24-hour major retailer and regional hospital along a major thoroughfare, has lent itself to the restaurant's success.
"We're fortunate in that we have that base to pull from, and we also have the neighborhoods," said Justice. "It's way ahead of what McDonald's [the corporate operation] thought it would be. I'm very fortunate."