McDonald’s Next Gen Entrepreneurs: The Thrower Family

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hen James and Marla Thrower opened their first McDonald's on Nov. 21, 1989, they started a family enterprise that their children Marissa, Joni, James II and Jamar could grow for generations to come.

"They didn't force us … but they kind of did," says Joni, 36, with a laugh. She says that when she was a young girl, her father introduced the kids to the family business early on.

"After school, he would bring us back to the store. We would do our homework in the lobby, and when we finished our homework we had to wipe down tables. So he kind of ingrained us into the business," says Joni. "When I was a teenager, I started complaining that I never got a chance to see any of my friends because we worked the weekends. So he hired my friends. And their parents loved it because it gave them their first job. They always remember that."

The Thrower family owns a total of 13 McDonald's restaurants, including five in New Orleans operated by Jamar. Marissa is the owner and operator of the Mack Avenue location. James II has a McDonald's on Linwood Avenue and Davidson Street that he bought from his father in 2010. And Joni, the newest addition to the restaurant business, operates a McDonald's in the McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport and will soon become an owner.


"I had a different career. I practiced banking law for about 10 years, then I came into the family business," says Joni, explaining that her move to entrepreneurship made the most sense at McDonald's. "If you are going to be involved in a restaurant business, the McDonald's brand is iconic. So it was an easy decision."

The siblings explain that they were all attracted to the McDonald's commitment and appreciation of family values.

"Yes, it's this big iconic brand," says Marissa, 27. "But behind it, they have programs like the McDonald's Next Generation program, which promotes family business. I think that's what I liked about it the most. And when you look at the leadership, they have a lot of minorities in leadership."

McDonald's restaurants give many people in the community their first job and first opportunity to learn leadership skills.

"One thing I've learned in my several years at McDonald's is that your customer likes to see people that they are familiar with," says James II. "They like to see that neighbor they've known since they were a kid. We like to provide opportunities to everyone in the community that we serve. It's a positive thing for us and it's a positive thing for the community."

And serving the surrounding community is an important value for McDonald's and the Thrower family, he explains.

James II serves on the Southeastern Michigan McDonald's Owners Association Co-Op Board of Directors and The People Team, comprised of McDonald's owners that prep people for training in best restaurant practices. Marissa coaches basketball at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. And Joni serves on several committees and boards, including the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

"I think that just being involved for all of us started with watching our parents," says Joni, adding that her parents were involved with the local NAACP and Urban League of Detroit. "So watching that growing up, you understand the importance of turning around and giving that helping hand to someone else. You see the difference that it makes in your community when you are involved."

Joni says being a McDonald's owner and operator is about serving great food, providing great service and enjoying family moments.

"We are not just making hamburgers and fries. We are helping celebrate with the local basketball team that just won their game and they come here for their winning meal. We are helping the mom who's trying to figure out what she's going to give her kids for dinner. Or helping someone start the day who needs that fresh cup of coffee with our fresh baked muffin to go along with it," says Joni. "So we don't just view ourselves as this restaurant. We believe that we are deeply involved in people's lives. We embrace that. We want to create those family moments. We want to create those moments, so when people see those Golden Arches, they say, 'We want to go to McDonald's.'"

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