Archive for Sunday, October 3, 2010

Veteran franchise owner maintains focus on treating people right

October 3, 2010


Franchise owner Marilyn Dobski is pictured outside the Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive McDonald's location. Dobski owns 13 franchises in northeast Kansas. Dobski is among the inaugural inductees to the Lawrence Business Hall of Fame.

Franchise owner Marilyn Dobski is pictured outside the Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive McDonald's location. Dobski owns 13 franchises in northeast Kansas. Dobski is among the inaugural inductees to the Lawrence Business Hall of Fame.

When Marilyn Dobski and her husband, Tom, opened the first of their 13 McDonald’s restaurants in 1981, the menu consisted mostly of french fries, hamburgers and shakes.

Since then there have been chicken McNuggets, the not so successful McLean sandwich with its seaweed extract and the popular McCafe.

“I can’t even tell you over the years how many products have come and gone,” Marilyn Dobski said.

With all the changes, one thing has stayed constant in Marilyn Dobski’s 29 years of McDonald’s franchise ownership. You could call it the Golden Arches Rule.

“We always try to treat our people the way we want to be treated,” Dobski said.

That, and making sure the customer’s experience is a top priority — from the landscaping outside to the restroom inside.

Case in point, not long ago Marilyn and Tom recently paid a visit to their Bonner Springs restaurant and noticed the men’s room needed to be cleaned. So out came the mop and towels.

“We’ve never been afraid to jump in and do what needs to be done,” Marilyn Dobski said.

This spring, Marilyn Dobski was named as one of the inaugural members of the Lawrence Business Hall of Fame.

Perhaps the hands-on, can-do mentality comes naturally for someone who grew up in a working-class Italian neighborhood in Chicago.

Marilyn and Tom met at DePaul University. At first, Marilyn taught school and Tom worked in the family’s grocery business with his two brothers. The family owned a chain of grocery stores in the Chicago area but was looking to sell when business became too competitive with the arrival of big box stores.

Tom’s brother, Tony Dobski, had looked into owning a fast-food franchise and decided McDonald’s was the best one. He soon took ownership of a McDonald’s in Covington, Tenn.

Tom decided to follow his brother. The couple began McDonald’s training, known as Hamburger University, to become an owner. In 1981, McDonald’s offered Marilyn and Tom the chance to purchase the store in Leavenworth. They said yes.

“We packed up, sold our house and moved lock, stock and barrel,” Dobski said.

Over the next three years, the couple opened stores in Atchison and Bonner Springs. In Atchison, students had camped out the night before the restaurant opened to be the first in line. So it was no surprise the restaurant broke 10 regional records for opening day, week and month sales.

In 1988, the family received an offer to acquire two McDonald’s in Lawrence.

Over the next decade, the couple opened another McDonald’s in De Soto and three more in Lawrence in Wal-Mart, on Massachusetts Street and on Wakarusa Drive. They also opened four McDonald’s in Topeka.

Lawrence’s Wal-Mart and downtown store closed a few years later, but the Dobskis opened new ones on Iowa Street, along I-70 and in Shawnee. The couple’s son Michael, who had been working for the family, purchased the Shawnee restaurant two years ago.

As the Dobskis’ business has grown to 13 stores and 700 employees, Marilyn Dobski said people remain the key to success.

“In the fast-food business, you think of high turnover. But in the management and support staff ranks, we are very fortunate to have wonderful people with us,” she said.

Dobski’s willingness to step forward and do the job that needs to be done extends beyond her business.

The Rev. Mick Mulvany, pastor of Corpus Christi Catholic Church, remembers the first time he met Marilyn Dobski. She was on trash can duty during the church’s Italian Festival Dinner.

“She had a big trash can in front of her and she was emptying out one bag and putting in another. And that really sort of epitomizes how involved she is,” Mulvany said. “If there is a charitable event Marilyn is there. And, I think she understands the blessings that are hers and the call to return that to the people around her.”

From helping arrange tile at the new Lawrence Arts Center building to attending heated public meetings on the arts center’s expansion, Dobski took a similar approach while serving on the arts center’s board, former director Ann Evans said.

“Every step along the way, she was there and participated and remembered and did things,” Evans said of Dobski, who was key in helping the arts center plan for and open its new building in the 900 block of New Hampshire.

Dobski has been key to attracting outside resources, said Bradley Warady, who is Children’s Mercy Hospital’s interim chairman of the pediatrics department.

Representing the Ronald McDonald House Charities, Dobski co-chaired a project with Warady to build a Ronald McDonald House family room at Kansas University Medical Center and Children’s Mercy.

The room, which allows for families to have a place to stay when they can’t or won’t leave the hospital because of a severely ill child, was the first of its kind when the project began in 1995. Today, the Ronald McDonald House Charities has more than 150 family rooms throughout the world.

“(Dobski) had not only the insight, but the clout within McDonald’s to be able to get us at the table so we could discuss this brand new concept and to convince them to let us give it a chance,” Warady said.

The two continue to work on Ronald McDonald House projects together. And Warady noted despite her Hall of Fame honor, she isn’t near done with her work.

“This will probably stimulate (Dobski) to do even more, which I think is the great thing about her,” Warady said.

Not surprisingly, when Dobski received a call from the Hall of Fame, she was sure they wanted her to serve on a committee, not induct her.

“When people have asked me about the Hall of Fame, I’ve said, ‘Well, anyone in the Hall of Fame is either dead, really old or retired. And I don’t think I’m any of those,’ ” Dobski said. “It will be really exciting to see in the future who will follow in our footsteps. Because I have taken this as a true honor for my profession and community service to Lawrence.”


Lee Eldridge 7 years, 3 months ago

These McDonalds are run very well. They're quick. Customer service is good. And the food is consistently the way it's supposed to be.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 3 months ago

"And the food is consistently the way it's supposed to be."

Yea, nutritionless and obesity-inducing.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 3 months ago

It's not tasteless-- just limited to three basic tastes as provided by salt, fat and sugar.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 3 months ago

Nice advertisment.

I have a sudden urge for something with a "Mc" in its name.

Bob Forer 7 years, 3 months ago

“We always try to treat our people the way we want to be treated,” Dobski said.

How bout applying that quote to your employees, most of whom make minimum wage. ..... Oh, I forgot, when they've been there several months you give em a dime a hour raise. What's the extra pay gonna buy.? Well in a week's worth of full time work, it won't even buy you a two cheeseburger extra value meal at McDs. I am glad the Dobskis follow the teachings of their church.....not.

I always love going in and trying to communicate with the immigrant staff. I guess most American's won't work for greedy folks like the Dobskis.

greenquarter 7 years, 3 months ago

I worked for the Dobskis for several years in the late 1990s while in college, and even today they remain one of the best employers I've had, especially in appreciating their employees. They gave us Walmart gift cards at Christmas and provided fun, motivating parties, including a yearly trip to Worlds of Fun, with a meal included (not McDonald's food!), provided regular and fair raises, etc. And they hired people no one else would give half a chance (from nearly homeless people to kids on their first jobs) and inspired loyalty from many of them as a result. One teen I worked with complained about wanting to find a "real" job, and I told him that was the "realest" job he would ever have. It taught me the value of hard work and made my post-college professional jobs seem like a cakewalk by comparison. And anytime the Dobskis were in the restaurant, they were both working hard right alongside us, even scooping fries in very nice clothes that were sure to get ruined, as were Mike and Kevin (the youngest wasn't old enough to work yet). I can't imagine working there now, with the much wider variety of food, but the employees I have encountered especially at the 6th and Michigan store are unfailingly friendly, and drive-through times are WAY better than when I worked there! There's a reason senior citizens flock there each morning (as they did years ago)--it's friendly and comfortable, they become regulars and make friends with the staff, and they can stay as long as they want. Speaking of friends, I'm still in touch with several people I worked with, as well as encountering others around town, some of whom still work there. As for the food, it's what you make of it. You can get grilled chicken, salads, apples, low-fat milk, and other healthy options. It doesn't taste as good as more upscale restaurants, and it's certainly no cheaper, but it's good in a pinch for a reliable meal when you're in a hurry or on the road.

sad_lawrencian 7 years ago

I worked for the Dobskis in 2008. I worked at the McDonalds on 6th and Wakarusa. The Dobskis were hell to work for. The training was brief, just a few minutes, and then they put me on the counter during lunch rush. After three hours of back-to-back taking orders, I requested a 10-minute break so I could sit down for a moment. I was told I could not have a break. I argued with the manager and she informed me that employees only get one break during an eight-hour shift.

I was the only Caucasian (non-Hispanic), and the only English-speaking, employee in the new hires which included 8 Hispanic employees and myself. The HR materials and orientation were mostly delivered in Spanish, which is bad for me because I don't speak Spanish.

Since I quit the job, I have returned to the Dobski-owned McDonaldses several times as a customer. Routinely they serve food which is severely undercooked (most breakfast items) or overcooked (most hamburger patties). I've been charged twice for the same order (drive-through cashier swiped card twice).

The most annoying thing about these restaurants, however, is how they force you to listen to a sales pitch every time you visit the drive-through. No matter the time of day, I am always greeted with "Welcome to McDonalds, would you like to try our [insert name of random menu item that nobody wants to order] today? [then a brief pause] Order when you're ready!" This is so annoying! After subjecting myself to the drive-through sales pitch for months, I finally decided to stop taking my business to Dobski-owned McDonaldses. I am so happy now!

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