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Long gone are the days when a business could simply set up a shop and go about their way towards making profits, especially if you are a large corporation. Ms. Chatelain’s book does a nice job of explaining the social changes McDonald’s had to address involving blacks while their company grew. ‘Franchise’ gives a unique perspective about a complex issue. Without question, McDonald’s is an American success story. The book tells about the McDonald brother’s business efforts before coming up with their restaurant model that also gave birth to countless copycats. It also explains how Ray Kroc wrestled the small business from the brothers and went much further with the burger business. The staunch conservative Mr. Kroc was purely focused on increasing revenue and only got involved in black demands because of profit concerns.
Ms. Chatelain shows how pushback came not only from blacks but also whites. The Jim Crow South was especially stubborn in not allowing African Americans full or even minor access to their restaurants. Readers will get a broader understanding of the frustrations and danger that blacks faced on a daily basis. ‘Franchise’ addresses such things as black urban poverty and the hopes of empowerment for blacks in owning fast-food businesses; blacks’ segregation from prosperity; the effectiveness of demonstrations; changing demographics; discrimination within corporate America; feeble government black urban programs that were simply window dressing and political photo opportunities; the various perspectives of racial justice; economic disenfranchisement; environmental activism; community control; housing and business discrimination; black nationalism shooting itself in the foot; tokenism; and health concerns. The author highlights episodes in Chicago, Cleveland, Pine Bluff (Arkansas), Portland (Oregon), Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Street gangs and community activism play pronounced roles in the destitute urban zones mentioned. Opening up a McDonald’s in some of these areas required a tremendous work ethic, political savvy, and brass balls the size of those inflatable bouncy seats. ‘Franchise’ shows McDonald’s as well as the rest of the fast food industry adapted with mixed results as blacks attained more civil rights and began demanding much warranted attention about their generations of oppression and neglect.
‘Franchise’ is solid balanced reporting. Ms. Chatelain presents persuasive arguments on both sides of the numerous debates in the book. Much like sexual hanky-panky, she aptly writes, “Fast food is about more than just food. Consumers make marketplace choices based on a constellation of emotions, past experiences, memories, desires, and actual hunger.” While McDonald’s is at the center of the discussion about relations with African-American communities, ‘Franchise’ makes solid points about the broader factors causing such strong black reactions. Racial stereotypes, racism, and urban neglect are at the core of the book. Black urban poverty is still very much with us today and, despite all the gasbag politicians’ celebrating otherwise, fast food joints are not the capitalistic panacea for correcting generations of urban segregation and prejudice. They are simply a crumb in the bucket of KFC chicken.
It is one of the selections in my book club. The history and detail in it are compelling. It is not the best writing in the world, as it is fact after fact put together with skill. I'd like a few critical questions put in, or discussions of whether this pattern of franchising that affects poor and minority people will simply continue, because it makes money. SOme of the history in the book, I'd forgotten about and it stimulated me to think more about what I remember.