Ray Kroc is a fascinating guy. In the 1950s, he was selling milkshake mixers when two guys came in and asked for eight of them. Those two guys were the McDonald brothers, who were running a small chain of hamburger restaurants that were successful enough for them.
An jazz musician turned salesman, Ray Kroc signed on as the McDonald brothers’ franchising agent, but the McDonald brothers were happy enough with what they had ($100K in profits a year) and felt no urgency to expand. A frustrated Kroc not only bought out the franchising rights, but he screwed over the McDonald brothers on the royalty rights and opened a McDonald’s nearby to run the original restaurant — which the McDonald brothers had given to its employees — to run it out of business.
With the franchise rights, Ray Kroc followed Walt Disney’s template by expanding the franchise, creating a McDonaldsland modeled after Disneyland. It worked. By the time Ray Kroc had gotten out of the business of burgers, the company he bought for $2.7 million in 1961 was selling $8 billion in fast food in 7500 restaurants by 1974.
In The Founder, Ray Kroc is played by Michael Keaton, and those McDonald brothers are being played by John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman. B.J. Novak, Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson, and Linda Cardellini also star in the film, which just opened in Los Angeles and NY to give Keaton a chance at an Oscar. I’m inclined to withhold an Oscar so that Keaton keeps making movies like this and Birdman and Spotlight in an effort to earn one. I look forward to the Oscar-season Keaton offering every year.
The Founder opens wide on January 20th.