If Carlin Carpenter was the first person you met in Bluffton, you’d do one of two things. Hightail it for the hinterlands or decide to stay put. After a hearty welcome from Carpenter, Jerry and Lori Lewis decided that if his friendliness was any indication of the general population, then Bluffton was a good place to settle and open their first McDonald’s Restaurant. In fact, they never did get around to visiting the two other towns that were options for them to open their first store. That single restaurant has grown to 17 within the Lewis franchise system, but the Lewises continue to reside in Bluffton.
Scott Shaw, who has worked for Jerry since he first opened the Bluffton store, is now director of operations, and lives around the corner from Jerry and his family. Recently, Jerry gifted Scott with “key employee ownership”, which shows how much faith he has in his good friend.
Today Lewis’ restaurants employ a total of 900, with 60 of those at the Bluffton store. According to Lewis, who spoke at the Sept. 10 Bluffton Chamber of Commerce breakfast, the company is an active supporter of local activities including soccer, Child Development Center, Ricky Matter Strength and Conditioning Center, Bluffton University President’s Club, McDonald’s Basketball Tournament, library summer reading program, library expansion, MAC Grants to teachers, and scoreboards at Bluffton University. In Lima, Lewis’ restaurants sponsor a Thanksgiving Day dinner at the Civic Center, and are involved in Clean Up Inner City Lima — donating $60,000 of paint and mulch, and other supplies.
The truth is, it’s hard to make a turn in Bluffton without seeing some evidence of Lewis’ McDonald’s — whether on a billboard, a sign, a tee-shirt on a tiny soccer player.
Lewis, who served in the Navy for four years after high school, spent another year backpacking through Europe before returning home to southeastern Ohio. He quickly became immersed in the McDonald’s business and has never lost his passion for it.
In fact, Lewis can spout McDonald statistics like a devout OSU football fan. Stats like these just roll off his tongue: 637 restaurants in Ohio, 37,110 employees, 8.4 percent are in management, and the average length of employment is 9.2 years. Lewis is all-too-familiar with the negatives that go along with “flipping burgers”.
“Don’t study hard, you’re going to flip burgers for the rest of your life,” said Lewis, adding with a grin, “That’s what I do.”
But flipping burgers has provided Lewis with the means to give back to a community that has supported him wholeheartedly. That passion for “giving back” resulted in his being awarded the treasured “Golden Arch Award” in 2010, an award given to less than one percent of all McDonald’s owners.
Lewis’ enthusiasm for the business has begun to impact his own children. Jessica, a schoolteacher with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and a principal’s certificate, has taken a year of absence to spend some time working for the family business. His son, Jonathan, a finance major at Miami University, intends to join the business after graduation. But Lewis is clear; this is not a matter of nepotism in the workplace. His kids begin just like every other employee — wiping down tables.
It is, after all, how Lewis started his own McDonald’s career. From wiping tables to flipping burgers to giving back. It’s all about having a passion for doing what you love.