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Finding Success at the Top and Bottom of the Fast Food Chain
If you owned McDonald's, would you put a man with no experience in management? Likely not. But the founder of McDonald's saw something in him.

If you were Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's restaurants, and you were looking for someone to take over a struggling franchise, whom would you choose? Probably someone with experience in the restaurant industry, for starters. Some general business knowledge and possibly even a business degree would also be an asset, as would a strong work ethic, good people skills, and, of course, deep pockets.

Finding Success at the Top and Bottom of the Fast Food Chain
Jerry Caven

With those qualifications in mind, what if the only remotely qualified candidate who responded to your ad was a biology teacher with no previous restaurant or business experience who was barely able to feed and clothe his wife and five children? That, and when he responded to your ad, he thought the job involved flipping burgers, not running the entire restaurant.

Taking a risk

Few people would do what Ray Kroc did in just such a situation. Not only did he hire Jerry Caven, the aforementioned candidate, he gave Jerry the restaurant for free and another three restaurants besides. Obviously, Kroc saw something in Jerry that made him think the risk was worth it. But before Jerry could accept Kroc's offer, he had to take a risk of his own: Leave his teaching career, where the pay was low but secure and dive into the volatile restaurant business.

Putting further pressure on Jerry, the Boise franchise that Kroc wanted him to take over had just gone bankrupt and when Jerry's school found out what Jerry was considering, they told him that if his venture with McDonald's failed he shouldn't bother begging to get his old job back. After careful deliberation and prayer with his wife Muriel (as was their habit), Jerry decided Kroc's offer was too good to refuse. So he resigned his teaching job and set out for "Hamburger University" in Chicago to get a crash course in the burger business.

Once he returned, Jerry literally "moved in" to his new business.

"I actually brought my cot into the basement and stayed there, twenty-four hours. I lived there for a while," Jerry says. He knew he was working against tremendous odds. "At the Hamburger University, they explained to us that a [restaurant] could not break even unless you were doing a volume of about 60,000 a month. And the previous month before I took over, this unit had done 12,000."

Nevertheless, thanks to hard work and a willingness to learn, Jerry's profits grew steadily over the next six months. That's when McDonald's approached him again. This time they wanted him to take over a floundering restaurant in Portland. Once again, Jerry told them thanks, but he didn't have any money.

"Okay, we'll give you that one, too," they replied. Jerry accepted, and eventually McDonald's gave him two more restaurants in Washington State.

"So within about 14 to 18 months after we took over the Boise McDonald's, we had a total of four McDonald's in three different states," Jerry says. "Finally, about a year after that, we got an honest to goodness franchise that we did pay for in Reno, Nevada."

Building my own chains

Now that he had discovered the secret to running a successful restaurant, Jerry wanted to purchase still more franchises. But for once, McDonald's wouldn't let him. They urged him to focus on making his current restaurants as profitable as possible. Then they would talk about more franchises later. Rather than wait for McDonald's though, Jerry and his team began searching for a new restaurant concept they could start on their own.

The idea they came up with was called the Royal Fork Buffet. It took the smorgasbord concept to a new level of cleanliness and quality. True to form, the idea was so successful that Jerry eventually opened 48 Royal Fork restaurants in twelve states before selling the chain in the late 1970s.

He jumped back into the restaurant business in the early 1980s, opening up 24 more restaurants. Today, Jerry is gradually shutting down that chain to make way for a new restaurant concept. Never mind the fact that he is in his mid-sixties!

Real estate development

While it may appear as if Jerry's career has focused solely on fast food, he also has a burgeoning second career as a real estate developer. Jerry began acquiring small properties when he started with McDonald's. Over the years, his real estate holdings have grown substantially. Some of them he subdivides and develops. But when it comes to ranch land—Jerry's passion—he just tends to hold onto it. The "crown jewel" of Jerry's holdings is the Half Moon Ranch, which consists of about 100,000 acres. It is a working ranch, home to 1,000 cows. Of course, Jerry sees even this enterprise through the calculating eyes of a businessman. "We are mainly in the cow/calf business. That is where you view the cow as a manufacturing plant and the calf as its product."

But life on the ranch is not all work. Twice yearly Jerry and his crew do a good, old fashioned cattle drive as they herd his livestock from the ranch to the mountain pastures and back again.

"Herding cattle is a team sport," Jerry says. "You have to feel what the other people are doing, where they are, what they are going to do. … It is an extremely difficult job, but it's a job that everyone wants to do."

When Jerry isn't dreaming up new restaurant ideas or running cattle, he and Muriel spend their time volunteering overseas and at home. Over the years, they have dedicated their time and resources to ministry work in Central America, India, Pakistan, Africa, Bangladesh and the United States. Jerry puts as much effort into this sort of work as his profit-driven enterprises because he feels it is just as important, if not more.

"I believe that if someone is in business just for the money but does not give back either some of his money or his life, then he is certainly missing out on a huge blessing."

The success behind the story

In some ways, Jerry still finds his success somewhat of a mystery. But he is certain of one thing:

"If you are starting a business and want to be successful, one thing I would tell you is to go to the Bible and read and understand the concepts that are put forth there. Not only will these concepts help you to be successful in every way, in the Bible, you will also encounter Jesus. And knowing Jesus will give you far more than any business success ever could, namely, peace and hope."

Kevin Miller is a freelance writer, editor, and educator from Abbotsford, BC. He has written, co-written, and contributed to more than two dozen books, both fiction and non-fiction. See his work at

Originally published on the website, Secrets of Success.




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