0

McDonald's transformed into 'chic, modern' eatery

A McDonald's restaurant owner has given his Morrow franchise a $1.8 million makeover.

Changes at the restaurant, located at 2125 Mt. Zion Boulevard, have been underway for about three months, said owner Ray Justice. An open house is scheduled for Dec. 2, from 6 to 8 p.m., he added.

Justice said he was able to renovate his Morrow location through McDonald's "re-imaging program," in which the company assists in funding about 50 percent of the renovation costs, and the franchisee puts down the rest.

The project began on Aug. 15, and ended around Nov. 10, said Justice. "You are looking at close to a $2 million conversion here," he said.

One new addition to the restaurant is a "toddler zone," which is 188 feet 24 feet. It is the first playground of its kind in Georgia, within the McDonald's franchise, Justice said. "The mothers love it, because they don't have to contend with the 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds anymore," said Justice, who has lived in Jonesboro for 10 years.

He said the 4,500-square-foot McDonald's used to have a "PlayPlace," which was an area in which children could participate in a variety of activities, including sliding down a tube slide. The franchisee said that part of the renovation plan was to remove the PlayPlace and substitute the toddler zone.

"They [PlayPlaces] were old, and too costly to maintain," said Justice. He said his McDonald's franchise receives a high volume of customers, and some upgrades assisted the location in meeting customer demands. "It was doing twice the volume that it was designed for," said Justice.

Before the restaurant was renovated, Justice said, customers would bring their dogs and ask if they could walk them in the grassy area. Now, he said, the eatery is more dog-friendly, with two new dog parks, which include benches, grass, dog-waste disposable bags, and garbage cans.

Stephen Brown, a spokesperson for McDonald's, said there was a need for the dog parks, because the restaurant is near Interstate 75, and travelers bring their pets with them to the restaurant.

"I am the only one I know of that has a facility [with] a dog walk," said Justice, while looking out the window of his restaurant. Providing more usable parking space also was a necessity for the high traffic flow the restaurant receives, he added. The upgrades added more parking space, and includes two drive-through areas, he said.

The restaurant is adjacent to the Mt. Zion Cemetery. Before the improvements, the parking area facing the cemetery had to be 25 feet away from the cemetery wall that separated the two spaces, as ordered Clayton County in 1994 when the restaurant was originally built, he said. The county recently allowed the parking space to be five feet away from the cemetery, which allowed more room for traffic flow, he added.

During the construction of the parking area, "the challenge was staying open when you had no parking," Justice said. "People had to rely entirely on the drive through."

Another plus for the eatery is more space in women's and men's restrooms, he said. Space has been increased about 30 percent, he added.

Justice said the restaurant offers a modern, chic interior design as well, and includes televisions, a bar-stool area, new ceilings, interior walls and flooring.

Judy Pearson, a frequent customer since 2002, said she is enjoying the new space, as well as the TV's. She said the restaurant has become a home away from home. "I've been to several McDonald's around here, but I've come back here because the service is much better," said Pearson, of Forest Park.

She said she dined in, even when the renovation project was taking place. "There were days that I thought they [construction workers] were going to come through the roof," said Pearson. "It didn't bother me."

Cedric Nettles, 17, said he is part of Jonesboro High School's baseball team, and comes almost everyday to enjoy the "Quarter Pounder with cheese" meal, with his teammates. "It's more attractive," said Nettles.

Justice has owned the Morrow McDonald's franchise since 1994. He said he also has a McDonald's at 1473 Hudson Bridge, in Stockbridge, in Henry County. He opened it in 2008.

He began his career at McDonald's in 1959, he said, and worked at a McDonald's in Hapeville, making milkshakes. Eventually, he became the franchisee of the Hapeville restaurant. Over time, he owned 15 franchises, stretching from Hapeville, to Griffin.

He has been a franchisee for the company for 51 years, and currently owns the Morrow and Stockbridge locations. He said he shares the ownership of both restaurants with his wife, Amy Justice.