Inside the Rise of a McDonald’s Franchise Empire

After the training was completed, the search for a location began. He looked at several units across the country, but nothing seemed to suit him and his family. For some reason, the locations in Texas, Indiana, and Massachusetts just didn’t make sense.

Mateos Sr. says it was partly because of where they were – he describes himself as an “East Coast guy”. Having spent his entire life in New Jersey just across the street from New York, he found it hard to imagine living anywhere that wasn’t close to a metropolis.

Back and forth to find a location continued until McDonald’s East Division franchise manager found a unit in Virginia, not far from Washington, DC.

At first glance, the Virginia location was anything but prime real estate. The restaurant was in serious need of a makeover, both on the surface and behind the scenes. In addition to the physical store itself, the business generated there also needed to be revitalized.

“There were six air conditioning units there,” he says. “Five of them were down. Most of the gates weren’t working. It was a complete, chaotic mess. But I took the risk. We went through a lot of hardship the first three, four, five months.

These initial difficulties did not last long as the restaurant eventually saw monthly sales increase by 40-50%. The success of his first store led to more opportunities. He transformed a second unit in the same way, which led to his greatest luck with the company.

McDonald’s offered Mateos Sr. the chance to buy nine struggling DC-area locations, hoping he could work his magic on those stores.

“I went back to them and told them I wasn’t going to buy the nine stores,” he says. “I know what I can do and I don’t like to fail. Failure is not an option.”

So instead of taking nine subpar units, he opted to buy five. He says that within two to three months, the stores were heading in a better direction.

“I did the exact same thing I did with my first restaurant,” he says. “We have grown from one store in 1999 to 41 in 2021.”

Having proven himself as a more than competent franchisee, Mateos Sr. now operates some of the most recognizable units in the DC area, such as McDonald’s around the corner from the White House.

But he doesn’t run his empire alone, it’s a family affair in the DMV. His two oldest daughters and his son are all owners/operators of McDonald’s franchises.

Mateos Sr.’s son, Carlos Mateos Jr., partnered directly with his father. After playing baseball in college, Mateos Jr. was thinking about what he wanted to do in life.

“I can identify the day when I said this was what I wanted to do,” Mateos Jr. says.

After hanging up his baseball cleats, Mateos Jr. began working as a cashier at one of his father’s DC McDonald’s. This led to him becoming a crew trainer, a position requiring knowledge of all areas inside a restaurant, and a position with the ability to train any employee at every station.

“After becoming a certified crew trainer, I told my dad that was what I wanted to do,” he says. “I told him that I wanted to continue 100%.”

Eventually, Mateos Jr. moved to a company store to gain more experience and learn from a position where he was not the owner’s son.

“It was good for me to have a different outlook and perspective,” he says.

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