Eating Local: Nationally-branded restaurants

Posted at 10:18 PM, May 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-28 23:28:34-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Over the last two months, 3 News Now has talked about eating local, taking out from local restaurants and supporting local. But what defines a local restaurant?

While many think local as your typical mom and pop restaurant, nationally-branded restaurants are also local restaurants.

“I’ve had friends say you should eat locally and I say it is local,” said Zoe Olson, the Executive Director of the Nebraska Restaurant Association. “It’s where I live and it is owned by people that live where I live.”

She said most nationally-branded restaurants in Nebraska are owned by individual franchises owners.

“It’s a big misconception and unless you’ve been in the restaurant industry or understand how franchises work, you think it is a big corporation and they don’t care about anything local,” Olson said.

“As a franchise owner I certainly understand it,” said Steve Leonard, a franchise owner and operator who owns 22 McDonald’s in Nebraska and Iowa. “You see whatever the brand is that you’re franchised with. I understand they’re all own by a national company and they’re not locally owned.”

Leonard currently employs 1200 people and has owned McDonald’s franchises since 1991. While other companies may be different, he says in Nebraska, all McDonald’s franchises are locally-owned. Olson said this is a big plus for our area.

“Everybody that works at his restaurant lives here, no big bad corporation is sending in workers by the busloads to work in communities,” Olson said. “Those franchise workers live here work here and spend their livelihoods and money here.”

Like most restaurants across the state, Leonard isn’t doing the same amount of business as before. Currently he’s not allowing any diners inside.

“We’re still seeing people come to our restaurants and they’re coming through the drive through,” he said.

One of the differences between nationally-branded restaurants and independent restaurants is while the independent restaurants are on their own to get through the pandemic, nationally-branded restaurants have the benefit of support and guidance from a national office.

“The guidance they can give me in and around the way we might want to operate once we reopen is very vital to how we protect our customers and all of our staff in a safe and clean environment,” Leonard said.

There’s no right or wrong place to eat out at, but remember, our perception of what is local may be different than what it actually is.

“Understand that franchises are local restaurants too,” Olson said. “They’re your neighbors, who you see in your everyday life. You probably know someone who works at a franchise. You just didn’t realize it wasn’t corporately owned.”

Leonard said being involved in the community has helped his restaurants get the word out that they’re locally owned. He said area McDonald’s franchises are giving away $68,000 to various organizations across the region that need assistance due to COVID-19.

When it comes to reopening back up, McDonald’s specifically sent out a 59-page guide to its restaurants two weeks ago detailing to them what extra precautions they have to take to keep staff and customers safe.

Watch reporter Phil Bergman’s story in the above video.