The recognizable golden arches have always been more than a place to get a hamburger, french fries, and a coke for this mother-daughter duo.
McDonald’s is part of the family.
Michele Rice-Kirkwood owns and operates eight restaurants in western Pennsylvania, one of which is her daughter Brittany Neal’s general manager.
“Michele and Brittany are a great example of what McDonald’s is all about,” said Charlie Tang Newberger, McDonald’s Field Vice President, via email. “McDonald’s is all about family. Whether it’s the families who visit us for dinner or the families who own and run so many McDonald’s restaurants, the family makes McDonald’s special. ”
Family is a big reason Rice-Kirkwood and Neal are part of the restaurant group. The Rice family is from Akron, Ohio. Rice-Kirkwood’s father, James Rice, began his career with the company at the age of 17 as a cashier.
He bought his first restaurant on Summer Street in Boston. Rice-Kirkwood and her siblings started working at McDonald’s with their father when she was old enough.
The family moved to Buffalo, NY with McDonald’s before ending up in Pittsburgh in 2000. They originally bought four restaurants in the Pittsburgh area.
They once owned 16.
Rice-Kirkwood currently has locations in South Park, Fort Couch Road, Brentwood, Pleasant Hills, North Side, Mt. Oliver, West Mifflin and Scott.
Neal is the general manager of the South Park site.
“Anywhere you see one of these restaurants, you just know what to expect,” said Rice-Kirkwood. “McDonald’s is consistent.”
When Neal was a teenager, her mother took her to the McDonald’s they owned on Steubenville Pike in Robinson every weekend. After a few hours, Neal would ask why she had to be there all day.
“I told her, ‘because you’re not driving and I have to be here,'” said Rice-Kirkwood, whose son Christian, 28, is doing the landscaping for the eight sites. “I liked having her there. It reminded me of when I was going to go to the McDonald’s that my father owned. ”
Neal got her first job at McDonald’s.
“I was so happy to get this paycheck,” said 30-year-old Neal from Munhall, who wants to become the owner / operator.
“I’m so proud of Brittany,” said Rice-Kirkwood, 50, of East Liberty. “She made her own decision to follow in my footsteps, just like I chose to follow in my father’s footsteps. I love that. I’m curious to see where this path leads. ”
That path was one that Rice-Kirkwood saw her father take. She said it wasn’t always easy for him or her mother Edith Rice to hang out with on Mother’s Day Saturday, but they had overcome obstacles to take care of their family.
Her father, who died in May 2016, taught his daughter all about business. She said he had a vision. He was determined and resilient.
“He left a great legacy that I want to pass on,” said Rice-Kirkwood.
She said his legacy included not only providing jobs for employees, but also helping them in life.
“My favorite part is mentoring young men and women and giving them the opportunity to move forward and achieve their goals,” she said. “Working at McDonald’s is more than just taking a fast food order.”
Rice-Kirkwood became a recognized owner / operator on September 4, 2003. She said she looked in her father for the resources to take the next step and own a restaurant.
Rice-Kirkwood employs around 400 people.
As a business owner, it was difficult to tell regular customers during the pandemic last year that they are not open in the dining room.
Neal agreed and said she still saw some of the regulars come through the drive and gather in the parking lot. As with many others in the restaurant business, staffing issues were difficult during the pandemic.
“Customers are ready to come back, but we want to make sure it is safe for them and that we have enough staff,” said Rice-Kirkwood. “We want to see them.”
Neal said her mother is doing a great job allowing her daughter to make decisions.
“I love what I do,” said Neal, who studied entrepreneurship and marketing at Kent State. “I’ve always wanted to own my own business.”
When not at work, try not to discuss McDonald’s. They plan to spend Mother’s Day together on Sunday.
According to Rice-Kirkwood, Neal always includes a personal note on a Mother’s Day card.
“She writes the best news,” said Rice-Kirkwood.
“I look up to my mother,” said Neal. “She is very inspiring and gives me good advice
She keeps it real and says it as it is. She is an independent woman. ”
The two of them will have dinner together tomorrow.
“No, we’ll probably go to a nice restaurant,” said Rice-Kirkwood. “We love McDonald’s, but I thought of a place like Eddie V’s.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a contributor to the Tribune Review. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter.
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