May 20--Print Article
Chris Jahnke has achieved a milestone few in their lives can boast: 40 years of service with McDonald's.
Jahnke, her husband Bud and son D.J. are the new owners of the five McDonald's franchises in the Flathead Valley. They purchased them from Scott Hadwin and his wife in a sale that was finalized March 16.
The Hadwins are embarking on their next entrepreneurial adventure and opening a rum distillery in Evergreen with some friends. The Jahnkes now own the three McDonald's franchises in Kalispell, one in Whitefish and another in Libby.
Changes for McDonald's customers will be minimal, as the corporation goes to great lengths to ensure consistency from store to store to protect their brand, Chris said.
They have retained most of the staff, including all the store supervisors and general managers, and have plans to renovate and modernize multiple stores in the next three years.
The Libby location will see an extensive remodel in the coming year, and the location in north Kalispell in the Spring Prairie complex will see an interior renovation this winter. In 2019, the Whitefish restaurant is getting a full renovation as well.
The Jahnkes also bought all new grills for their restaurants that are better equipped to handle high volumes of fresh beef. The new grills will allow them to cook more burgers to order than previously possible.
They also bought new uniforms so employees across all the locations will be wearing the same garb as they feed the Flathead.
THE JAHNKES' long history with the burger corporation began in the Flathead, where Bud and D.J. both were born, but took them to the Bitterroot Valley before bringing them back here for their latest venture. The Jahnkes owned and operated two stores in the Bitterroot in Lolo and Hamilton for many years.
They were contemplating retirement, but when the corporation let them know these stores were available they decided to stay in the game, ramp up their ownership responsibilities and move home.
"This is where I'm from," Chris said. "So far, it feels like home."
Chris began her tenure with the corporation at the Whitefish store when she was hired 40 years ago by Scott Hadwin's parents, Jim and Kathy Hadwin, as a crew member. She actually trained Scott back in the day when he began his own job with the crew.
She loved working for the company and loved the role she got to play in the community through her association with McDonald's. She decided she wanted to move up in the company in whatever ways she could. Naturally, that brought her to prepare for owning her own franchise.
"I love the brand, I love the company, I love McDonald's," Chris said.
That love runs so deep that to this day Chris said she likes to eat food from the store every day. Bud and D.J. said that even if they go on vacation and ask her where she wants to go, she still picks McDonald's.
In 1992, Chris and Bud bought the Hamilton McDonald's, relocated to the Bitterroot and had been there ever since. About 15 years later they bought the Lolo franchise.
To transition back to the Flathead, the Jahnkes sold their Bitterroot stores to a Missoula-area franchisee and are learning the ropes of managing five stores compared to three.
THE AMOUNT of work is a big change, especially because Chris prefers a hands-on management style. With more than twice as many employees to manage, learning everyone's name is more difficult.
An employee who also worked with the Hadwins was retained to help manage the work; that's been immensely helpful, the Jahnkes said.
Bud and D.J. used to do all the repairs on restaurant equipment themselves when they only owned two stores 40 miles apart. With five stores and one 90 miles away in Libby, that simply isn't an option. Fixing stoves has transitioned to dealing with contractors, and while it hasn't been overwhelming it has been a significant adjustment, Bud said.
For the time-being, their son D.J. has a 20 percent ownership stake in the five restaurants. He is nearing the end of an involved two-year training program to be certified to eventually become the sole owner of the franchises.
The McDonald's corporation doesn't let just anyone buy a franchise, and the Jahnkes said the training has grown more stringent over time. It is an effort to protect their brand, but it also requires significant financial investment.
D.J. has completed the work and is awaiting final confirmation from the corporation. The Jahnkes said they plan on keeping the Flathead Valley stores under family ownership for many years to come.
Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or [email protected]
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