Ray Kroc’s McDonald’s Systems Inc. was scouting for restaurant locations in DeKalb as early as 1959. By 1965, the McDonald’s at 805 W. Lincoln Highway had sold 4 million hamburgers – at 15 cents each – and 1 million pounds of french fries.
DeKalb’s first McDonald’s opened May 3, 1960, across from the Fine Arts Building off the Northern Illinois University campus. An advertisement in the Daily Chronicle on May 2 announced “tomorrow is it” and “come and get ’em.” It featured slogans such as “look for the drive-in with the arches” and “a pleasure every family can afford.” The grand opening was Saturday, May 7.
DeKalb foundation and concrete contractor Robert C. Rich poured the foundation of the restaurant. Local contractor Lane Severson did the general carpentry. Brown Refrigeration & Supply installed the refrigeration equipment. L & M Electric Contractors did the electrical work. Tom Henigan Jr. did the plumbing. Sycamore contractor Frank E. Johnson got the masonry contract. Johnson Concrete Co. furnished the concrete. I know this because all six contractors put ads in the May 6 paper that noted their contributions to the restaurant and wished it luck.
Operator Chris Boulos had initially planned to open in April, according to a report that month in the Daily Chronicle. It provided the following description of the restaurant:
“The DeKalb establishment is one in a national chain of 167 in 29 states. The drive-in is designed with rainbow shaped arches, neon lights, has a food preparation area of 400 square feet. Orders are taken at a window, from the customer. There are no carhops and no person enters the food area except operator and employees. Concentrating on three food items and seven drinks the establishment has specialized for the benefit of service and cost.”
The restaurant was popular right away.
Shortly after opening, Boulos placed an ad in the Daily Chronicle that said “Thank you DeKalb for your wonderful response to our grand opening!”
The restaurant was closed on Thanksgiving, but Boulos encouraged readers in another advertisement to “bring all the family” out the following day.
By 1965, McDonald’s had made its mark on DeKalb. An article in the Daily Chronicle in April of that year reported that May 3 would mark several milestones for the DeKalb restaurant, including its fifth year and 4 millionth hamburger sold.
Here is an excerpt from that article, which appeared on the business page without a byline.
“In the past five years, McDonald’s has not only become a landmark in DeKalb but a way of life for local families. There are children now in grade school in DeKalb who can’t remember when their families didn’t make a habit of going to McDonald’s for hamburgers – and frequent French fries too, apparently, since local residents have now put away a million pounds of them.”
Boulos went on to make significant contributions to DeKalb’s business community and civic life. Born in Thana, Tripoli, Greece, in 1909, he died at Kishwaukee Community Hospital in 1981. His obituary noted that he “was the retired owner-operator of the original McDonald’s restaurant in DeKalb.” It also that he was past president of St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church in DeKalb, past president of the Rotary Club, member of the Masonic Lodge A.F. & A.M. No. 144 DeKalb, and past president of the DeKalb County Shrine Club, among others.
The original building was rebuilt, amid some controversy, for about $1 million in 2000. The McDonald’s at 805 W. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb is now owned and operated by McDonald’s Restaurants of IL Inc.
• Brett Rowland is news editor of the Daily Chronicle. The Daily Chronicle archives are available online for a fee at www.newspapers.com.