Why McDonald's Closed Its Successful BBQ Operation

When you hear BBQ and McDonald's in the same sentence, the first thing that comes to mind is probably McDonald's McRib or maybe barbeque sauce for your McNuggets. However, while McDonald's is well-known for its burgers and fries, it was once upon a time a brief purveyor of barbeque, too.

Before we get into the hows and whys of McDonald's obscure BBQ sauce-laden history, we must first talk about its founders: Maurice (or "Mac") and Richard McDonald. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the McDonald brothers were two entrepreneurs seeking their fortune through various means. The brothers briefly worked as theater assistants at Columbia Movie Studios before breaking out into owning and running their own movie theater. When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, Mac and Rich left the lights of Tinseltown to enter the world of food service. 

According to the Los Angeles Almanac, the McDonald brothers opened several open-air food stands, one near Arcadia that they called The Wigwam and another — The Airdrome — by the Monrovia Airport. Although the crowds of people flocking to see movie stars and film shoots at the airport helped make the business flourish, Rich and Mac soon realized that the future wasn't just selling food and orange juice to hungry movie-goers or paparazzi. 

Instead, it was in catering to this new generation of drivers that were popping up all over the place. To better cater to this car-obsessed culture, the McDonalds moved their operations to San Bernardino, where they opened their new restaurant: McDonald's Barbecue.

McDonald's Barbecue was the forerunner to McDonald's as we know it

Now that we've established the creation of the first McDonald's — or at least its first working model — we must begin to understand how a simple hot-dog stand transformed into one of the nation's biggest and most successful burger restaurants. 

As the Library of Congress writes, McDonald's Barbecue (or Bar-B-Que) was an incredibly popular spot. 125 cars packed the lot on weekend nights, with carhops traveling between cars and delivering everything from hot dogs to fresh squeezed orange juice. Annual sales easily topped $200,000 dollars, putting the McDonald brothers in a rather comfortable position. But competition was slowly rising, and the brothers knew they had to do something to keep themselves ahead of the game. They envisioned fast, clean service and low prices, all combined with an efficient system of cooking and delivery.

In 1948, McDonald's Barbecue shut down for renovations. Such renovations included redesigning the menu to focus more on hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes and the replacement of carhops and interior tables with self-service windows.  This was the birth of the first McDonald's hamburger restaurant. History describes the Henry Ford assembly line model of cooking, from burgers pre-prepared in a very specific way to the "Speedee Service System." Although the company was slow to start, after a few minor tweaks here and there, McDonald's began to take off.

And take off it did.