Deanna in front of a McDonald's restaurant

May 3, 2022

McDonald’s Small Business Week Highlight

by Deanna Witzel, McDonald’s Owner/Operator in Danville, Illinois

 

It may sound cheesy, but I’ve always wanted to be a small business owner. Specifically, I’ve always wanted to own a McDonald’s restaurant. I even wrote a letter to Ray Kroc to tell him my plans when I was 17 years old – and he wrote back!

Ultimately, my path to small business ownership was winding, but I achieved it. And the connections I’ve made in my community along the way have been a wonderful bonus.

The Small Business Journey Begins

I started working as a crew person at a McDonald's restaurant in Peoria, Illinois, and at age 21 I transferred with McDonald’s Corporation to Las Vegas, Nevada. Quickly, I was promoted to Restaurant Manager. My boss at the time, Tim Andersen, became my mentor, and I became his go-to person for getting things done. After a few years at the restaurant, I took a leap and accepted a position at McDonald's Corporate office. For a while, I was bouncing all over the company: Operations, Human Resources, Marketing, Profit Center Trainer, Area Supervisor – you name it, I’ve probably done it. But in my heart, I still dreamed of owning a restaurant.

 

From left to right: Tim Andersen, Deanna Witzel, Randy Andersen (Tim’s husband) and Don Witzel (Deanna’s husband)

This entire time, my husband and I would constantly check for McDonald’s restaurants to buy, but we couldn’t find the right location.

Then, in 1997, I traveled home to visit my father in Illinois. On the way, my husband and I stopped by a local McDonald’s for a quick cup of coffee. As I looked inside, I realized this was exactly the type of store I was looking for. It had the ambiance, a Play Place, a prime location with a lot of tourists – everything. But because of the size, I knew it was probably out of my price range.

A couple years later, the stars aligned, and I was presented with the opportunity to buy the very same Illinois restaurant I visited when I saw my dad. I was finally able to make my dream come true. The only downside: I had to leave Las Vegas and say goodbye to my friend, Tim.

McDonald’s in the Community

After my move, Tim asked if he could bring some McDonald’s leaders to visit my Illinois restaurant. Of course, I agreed. And because was more than a mentor to me – he was like a big brother – I just knew I had to pull out all the stops for his trip.

Thanks to my restaurants, I had integrated myself into my little community in Illinois, and I knew they could help me throw Tim the most epic welcome party ever. When he arrived at the airport, I sent a bus with the Mayor to greet him. They then drove through the area, giving Tim a tour of local sites. All along the road, there were banners welcoming “Tim Andersen and Friends” to town. I even got a local competitor to change their reader board sign to welcome the bunch of McDonald’s executives!

Everyone had an amazing time, and this became a huge career highlight for me. My story had finally come full circle. From Tim showing me the ropes in Las Vegas to me literally showing him around my community and him seeing how far I’ve come, it was special. My community means so much to me, and I'm proud of the impact my small business has been able to have on my neighbors and my family. This year I am proud to be celebrating my 40-year anniversary with McDonald’s.