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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 18, 2015 4 years ago

All about location

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How important is site selection? Just ask McDonald's. The store on its first real estate land deal in Florida is still busy nearly 60 years later.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald's, is famous for having said that he was in the real estate business, not the hamburger business.

The truth of that statement is evident when you consider his first real estate deal in Florida. The year was 1958 and many of the details are lost to history, but it's likely that Kroc personally approved the company's first Florida land deal on Cleveland Avenue in Fort Myers. “He probably came here with [business partner] Fred Turner,” says Deana Homsi, owner and operator of D&T of Fort Myers, the company that owns and operates the restaurant on the same site today.

Kroc started McDonald's in 1955 and by 1958 it had sold its 100 millionth burger. While the first McDonald's restaurant in Florida was built in Tampa, Fort Myers was the company's first land deal in the Sunshine State. “Most stores were corporate stores, originally,” Homsi says.

When it was built in 1959, the 1,000-square-foot McDonald's in Fort Myers became No. 152. If it had been built just a few months earlier it would have been among the first 100 stores, Homsi notes.

When Homsi calls corporate headquarters today, they always ask for the store number for identification first. When she tells them No. 152, there's often a pause because the company now has more than 36,000 stores.

Deana Homsi's family also has ties to the founding family. Her father, Sam Homsi, 73, for whom she's now taken over the business, worked as a janitor in the Kalamazoo store that was owned by Kroc's niece 49 years ago.

At the time, Sam Homsi was a 24-year-old student from Syria who was studying electrical engineering at Western Michigan University. Although he landed a job with Ford Motor Co., Homsi kept his McDonald's job and eventually went to work for the hamburger chain to develop its international stores in places such as South Africa, the Middle East and the Philippines.

Early in the McDonald's history, Sam Homsi had the opportunity to buy a McDonald's franchise for $25,000, a fraction of what it costs today. But he turned it down on the advice of his uncle who thought the chain was a fad that would pass.

After a successful corporate career at McDonald's, Sam Homsi settled in Fort Myers and purchased the Cleveland Avenue store in 1997. “This was his retirement job,” his daughter smiles.

Today, Deana Homsi and her family own and operate six McDonald's restaurants in the Fort Myers area, including the Cleveland Avenue store that recently was completely rebuilt.
“This restaurant cost over $2 million for me to build,” Homsi says.

The original 1,000-square-foot Cleveland Avenue restaurant, which was torn down and replaced in 1979, was located next to a Pontiac dealership that was a big draw. Although it's considered to be in the central part of town today, at the time it was the edge of the city.

Its location on Cleveland Avenue, the main north-south artery that is also U.S. 41, continues to be a high-traffic corridor nearly 60 years after McDonald's first identified it as a prime location.

The new store posted November sales that were up 20% compared with the same month in 2014, and as many as 86 cars an hour pull through the drive-thru lanes, Homsi says. “The goal is to be over 100,” she smiles.

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