‘Not just flipping burgers’

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The Rice family recently reopened its beautiful McDonald’s restaurant in Mt. Oliver in which they built from the ground up illustrating why they are one of the largest franchises overall and the largest Black owned and operated business in western Pa.

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A FAMILY AFFAIR—Rice Enterprises COO Melissa Rice works behind the McDonald’s counter with her niece Brittany store manager as CEO Michele Rice looks on. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)

Anyone born in the United States after 1955 does not know a time when a Big Mac and the golden arches did not exist. Within the past 57 years McDonald’s has become a household name when it comes to the fast food service industry.

Founded and existing on the principles of quality, service, cleanliness and value the company boasts that it is the leading food service retailer in the world.

They report that worldwide their 33,500 restaurants serve nearly 68 million people in 119 countries daily. Their statistics also indicate that 80 percent of their restaurants are franchised. Fifteen of those franchises are currently owned by Rice Enterprises, LLC and operated in the Pittsburgh region by sisters Michele and Melissa Rice. Ironically McDonald’s was originated in 1940 as McDonald’s Bar-B-Q by two brothers.

Listed as the number one minority operated business in the 2011 Book of Lists published by the Pittsburgh Business Times, Rice Enterprises employs more than 1,000 people. The business was established in 1987 by James Rice when he purchased his first franchise in Boston. Later relocating to Buffalo, N.Y. throughout a 10 year period he owned four franchises. In 2000 he became owner of what they consider the Pleasant Hills store located at 549 Clairton Blvd. August 7 the sisters reopened their Mt Oliver location as a newly built and remodeled store at 624 Brownsville Rd.

The Akron, Ohio natives have been involved in the business since its inception; both Michele and Melissa started as low level employees and worked their way up to franchise owner operators, CEO and COO respectively.

“I always wanted to own a business. By watching my father I decided this was for me,” said Michele who attended the University of Akron.

The eldest of the sisters, Michele says she worked her way through all levels of management winning numerous awards for Outstanding Manager in her region throughout her career. Outlining her path she explained that in 2003 she became an approved McDonald’s owner operator and continued to work in the family business managing the day-to-day operations of the restaurants. She said she also had the responsibilities of training and development, office and benefits administration, and hiring.

Since the age of 14 Melissa worked in the business gaining her knowledge in the Boston market. At the age of 18 she recalls that she was promoted to manager while living in Buffalo. She worked her way up from shift manager to general manager. Also having a passion for entrepreneurship, once relocating to Pittsburgh, Melissa says she learned every function of the business from back office, payroll, and accounts payable to working through every position in the restaurant. A single mother raising three children, in 2007 she was certified by the McDonald’s Corporation to become an owner/operator at the age of 34.

“I am very proud of this accomplishment because the approval process requires a lot of dedication, focus and hard work,” she emphasized.

Pointing out several times that it was her father and mother Edith’s dream and desire to leave the business to their children, Melissa indicated that upon becoming owner operators that neither she nor her sister branched off on their own but instead they did a family partnership in 2009. At the age of 39 she became the COO of the organization. Their father is semi-retired and now his grandchildren work in the business. Michele’s daughter Brittany is manager of the Mt. Oliver store and Melissa’s son Corwin works as a swing trainee at the South Park store.

“McDonald’s has touched a lot of lives and provides great opportunities,” said Michele. “It is not just about flipping burgers.” Corporate jobs range from positions in the restaurants to clerical, accounting, human resources, construction, to food service and technology. The company provides continuous training and development and takes inclusion and diversity seriously. Their corporation philosophy is that as an industry leader, they are committed to championing new generations of leadership. They report that diversity and inclusion are part of their culture—from the crew room to the board room.

According to their website, 70 percent of their US employees are women and minorities, over 25 percent of their leadership is women and minority, 45 percent of their franchisees are women and minority owed and they do more than 5 billion in diverse vendor spending.

The corporation’s president and chief executive officer is an African-American male Don Thompson, a 22-year McDonald’s career veteran. He leads the world’s largest foodservice company that employs more than 1.7 million people across the globe in corporate and restaurant positions.

One reason why the sisters love their positions is because they get to help a lot of people.

“We get to mentor many young men and women on life and career skills that will be valuable throughout their lives,” says Michele.

Melissa pointed out, “We employ a lot of people all over the Pittsburgh area and give many teenagers the opportunity to start at McDonald’s to gain work experience and tools that they can use throughout their lifetime.” Both serve as role models.

Michele is on the board of the National Black McDonald’s Owners Association and a member of the African American Chamber of Commerce and the South Hills Chamber of Commerce and is currently enrolled in The Institute for Entrepren­eurial Excellence at the University of Pittsburgh. Melissa is also a member of the two Chambers. As a business they donate to many little league teams and donate to churches, community groups and charitable organizations.

Recipients of the 2012 New Pittsburgh Courier 50 Women of Excellence award, the sisters strive to continue the legacy their father started by continuing to grow the business and passing it on to the next generation.

Rice Enterprises, LLC is headquartered in the South Hills area as well as most of their 15 stores. Other area locations include the Duquesne site near Kennywood Park, the Homestead facility in the Waterfront Mall and the Allegheny Ave­nue store on the North Side.

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