McDonald's Franchisee in Harlem Celebrates Rich Local Heritage

In big business or on their own, women are bringing new talents to old tasks

FOUR o'clock in the morning used to be the middle of the night for Carole Riley. Now she is often up at that hour to meet a delivery truck at one of her two McDonald's restaurants in Harlem.

After 10 years as an advertising sales representative for Time Inc., Ms. Riley took the plunge into business for herself last year.

"I see Harlem through different eyes than perhaps others do," Riley says. "Harlem's historical place in the hearts of many African-Americans means something. I thought that I could make a difference. It was exciting that perhaps I could be a part of Harlem's economic revitalization."

In many ways, 125th Street in Harlem is worlds away from Rockefeller Center, where Riley used to work. But step into one of her restaurants and it becomes readily apparent that the golden arches can march to a different beat.

Riley and her business partner, Kelli Givens, have brought a local focus to McDonald's vinyl environment. They opened their first franchise early last year and a second location last November.

"I wanted to create an environment that not only celebrated who we are, but educated as well," Riley says in an interview in the bustling and spotless second restaurant, just two doors down from the world-famous Apollo Theater.

Riley takes community involvement seriously. Photos on the walls are culled from the archives of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (located just north of here). They show Apollo entertainers from the past and present.

Riley ran a registration drive that netted 400 new voters last year. She awards an annual $5,000 scholarship to Spelman College in Atlanta to a young woman from Harlem. Thanksgiving dinner was served to homeless people. And Sunday brunch at McDonald's features McPraising, live gospel music entertainment.

Employee uniforms and the tile work throughout the restaurant are patterned after kente cloth from West Africa. The artwork on the walls, Riley says, was done by "some of the black masters, including Bearden, Stringfellow, Honeywood, and Barnes."

Many of America's big franchising companies are realizing that minorities and women are the keys to their future success.

"Growth is going to depend on how well you are focusing on the minority community," says Ronald Harrison, chairman of the minorities and women committee of the International Franchise Association (IFA). "This is a business imperative. We're not talking about affirmative action or social responsibility. If you are going to be successful in the year 2000, you must develop diversity as a focus for your company." Unpaid on-the-job training

Riley grew up in Columbia, S.C., and New Orleans. She received her bachelor's degree from Spelman College and an MBA from Atlanta University. "I always wanted to do something entrepreneurial," she says. But after graduate school, "I decided that it would be wise to gain some business experience in the real world and accumulate some capital." Riley's profitsharing plan from Time and her life savings gave her the resources she needed. But that was the easy part. She spent almost three years completing an u npaid 2,000-hour, on-the-job training program at McDonald's.

"I could not quit my job," Riley says. "So I worked after getting off my regular job or on weekends or very early in the morning. There were times I would go to McDonald's at 3 or 4 in the morning, then change my clothes and go to work at Rockefeller Center."

Times have changed for women, she says. "Only in the last 10 to 20 years have women been in places where they can earn enough money to be able to get into [business for themselves]. Women have the educational background, the knowledge, and the intellect to manage and run businesses. But you still need the money."

Terrian Barnes-Bryant, an IFA vice president, says that marshaling financing is still a hurdle for women. "Particularly sums under $100,000," she says. "Sometimes it is easier to get more money than it is to get less money."

Riley is finding that even once a business is going, money continues to be a problem. At the moment, sales are projected to approach $4 million at her two stores, but because they are so new, she is still paying off the heavy costs of renovation. "Sales are very good, but cash flow is so tight," Riley says. "My margins here are thin."

Haunani Sue Lin Kekuna, owner of three Coffee Beanery stores in the Allentown, Pa., area is a professional engineer who started her business to find more security for her family. "One's security within any given company simply is not what it used to be," she says. "I wanted to make sure that we had options for the future."

In Ms. Kekuna's view, women have a higher motivation for getting into business than men. "In corporate America, you can only go so high," she says. "If you are going to have to hustle, at least hustle in an area where you can actually flourish."

Kekuna describes self-employment as a "double-edged sword." It is extremely scary at one level, she says. But along with that goes a high level of excitement. "When you make decisions, it's your bottom line."

That kind of challenge has brought a growing number of women to franchising. An Arthur Andersen study in 1992 found that 18.5 percent of franchises were owned by women. Women have a new approach to the business, says the IFA's Ms. Barnes-Bryant. Instead of the "basic, uninformed questions" she used to get, she now fields queries about "very sophisticated business-plan development."

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