McDonald’s plans new store

FAIRMONT — After 40 years, the Fairmont McDonald’s soon will be razed to make way for a new high-tech building designed for a better customer experience and employee efficiency.

Owner Wes Clerc said site preparation will begin Monday with the local firm of Tech Builders serving as general contractor for the project. The restaurant will continue to be open until April 7 when it will be shut down and readied for demolition about 10 days later. Anticipated opening date for the new building is June 22.

“A lot depends on the weather, but that’s the target date we’re shooting for,” Clerc said.

McDonald’s debuted its Fairmont restaurant in October 1978, and Clerc bought the business in July 1980. He added the play area in 1992. In 2006, a major remodel resulted in gutting the lobby and moving walls, plumbing and electrical components.

But the age and original design of the building prompted the need for a replacement structure.

“There are a lot of things on the infrastructure of the building that are starting to show their age,” Clerc said.

The building had a basement for storage, which Clerc compared to the basement in the former Fairmont Liquor Store.

“All our storage is downstairs so when we got a delivery, we had to put all of our stock down there,” he said. “Then we had to bring it up when we needed it so it was a lot of extra work and a lot of extra steps.”

In addition to a more efficient design, the new structure will spotlight new features, which Clerc calls “the latest and the greatest.”

“It’s part of McDonald’s re-imaging and keeping everything fresh and up to date,” he said. “They call it ‘the experience of the future.'”

Customers will be able to use one of four digital ordering kiosks in the service area or, for the technology-challenged, continue to order from the counter person. The drive-thru lane will have digital menu boards highlighting special offers. In addition, McDonald’s is championing its new mobile ordering app that can be used from a smart phone or computer with pickup inside, at the drive-thru or curbside.

The kitchen design will undergo a total reconfiguration with updated equipment.

“The biggest thing will be what we call our dress table where we prepare our sandwiches,” Clerc said. “McDonald’s has come up with a concept for an under-the-counter conveyor belt. After the sandwiches are prepared, it pushes them directly to the service area where the counter person will assemble the order. We won’t have to hand carry them up to the front anymore. It will save a lot of steps and a lot of movement by the crew.”

A new digital drink station will allow customers to chose a variety of flavorings and toppings, and a new shake machine is a future addition.

McDonald’s has been hawking its switch from frozen to fresh quarter-pound hamburger patties, and the Fairmont outlet will be participating in that promotion.

“We will be rolling that out when we reopen,” Clerc said.

Monitors in the grill area will ensure product freshness.

“We don’t start cooking anything at McDonald’s until the customer orders it,” Clerc said. “The biggest thing is just giving the customer the best product and the best value for the money that is spent.”

The new building and equipment are important to Clerc, but he is equally concerned about his employees. Usually, about 70 full-time and part-time workers cover the shifts, but he has pared that number back to about 60 in the past few months, anticipating the impending shutdown.

“We have some great employees, and our intent is to keep all of them so we’ve offered a financial incentive to them,” he said.

Current employees can opt to work temporarily at other McDonald’s restaurants Clerc owns in Blue Earth, St. James and Windom.

“Everybody that is going to another store will get $1 an hour more to cover their cost of transportation. For those that choose not to drive those distances, they can apply for unemployment,” Clerc said.

When the new restaurant opens, those who traveled to work will keep their pay bump, and those who opted not to travel will return earning $1 an hour more.

“A number of our employees are at maximum (pay) for their current category so this will put them over,” he said. “It’s an incentive that they wouldn’t normally receive if we weren’t going through the rebuild.” He anticipates increasing the number of employees to 75 after reopening.

The project represents a major investment in the community from the McDonald’s corporation and Clerc himself.

“Right now, we’re in a 50-50 share basis with the company as far as the building is concerned. Our responsibility is for all the equipment, for all the seating and decor. Our share will be over $2 million, so if I live to be 120, I should get a return on my investment,” Clerc said with a chuckle.

“It’s very exciting. We’re hoping it goes smoothly, and it gets done very quickly. Hopefully, it will go like clockwork so we can open and people can enjoy their french fries and Big Macs in Fairmont again,” he said.

And those who can’t wait?

“There’s always Blue Earth or St. James,” he said.


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