This summer the Chronicle is bringing you another look at some of the best content of 2019. This story originally ran on May 7, 2019
Darren Rowland, his wife Jacinta, his brother and sister and his niece and nephew all work for McDonald's - it's a family thing.
"It's all I've ever known," he said.
Rowland and his wife Jay own Whanganui's Victoria Ave and Liffiton St McDonald's restaurants, and the Hāwera one as well. He started part-time work at the New Plymouth McDonald's aged 16, and met Jacinta at the Feilding McDonald's in 1996.
He could fairly be said to have ketchup in his veins. His favourite McDonald's offerings are a short black expresso coffee and a Big Mac burger.
"You can't beat a big Mac. I love a big Mac."
From age 16 to 18 Rowland had an after school job at McDonald's. As crew he rotated through the restaurant's 20 stations. His favourite station was a key one, the overseeing production station.
The job was busy, the staff were his age and it was a fun environment.
He thought of becoming a doctor, and did a year of study at Otago University. But during the holidays he worked as a manager in his brother Tony's Masterton McDonald's, and the lure of owning McDonald's restaurants trumped the doctor dream.
During 1995 he worked in Masterton, then in the Feilding McDonald's in 1996, where Jacinta was one of the crew. She went to Massey University to get a business studies degree, while he managed the Feilding and new Bulls McDonald's for franchisees Joel and Janet Smith.
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When they sold and moved to a Nelson McDonald's he went to work there, and he married in 2002. In 2004 he and his wife were ready to make a move they had dreamed of, and applied to have their own restaurant.
As franchisees they would own the equipment and the right to operate the lease, while the McDonald's corporation, a multinational based in Chicago, would own the land and buildings.
They were interviewed by McDonald's New Zealand senior management, to make sure they had the entrepreneurial spirit needed. They passed the test and had no children at the time.
"We would have gone anywhere for a restaurant," Rowland said.
They got Feilding, with 50 staff, and ran it for three years. In 2007 they moved to Whanganui and bought the McDonald's in the Trafalgar Square food court from Jim Pring, and the Victoria Ave McDonald's from John Warder.
A new McDonald's was planned for Hāwera, and they got that franchise too. It opened in 2008.
In 2009 they got the franchise for a new McDonald's in Liffiton St, handy to SH3 traffic and people from Gonville and Castlecliff. In 2012 they closed the McDonald's at Trafalgar Square.
Its lease had run out, it needed upgrading and there were limited opportunities to grow it.
Last year they "re-imaged" the Victoria Ave restaurant - adding new technology and new food and drink equipment. It was the first upgrade since 2006, and it cost $1.5 million.
So these days the two have the franchise for three restaurants, with 180 staff, one operations supervisor and three restaurant managers. Jay Rowland is a full-time mum with children aged 13, 11 and 7, and she also does payroll and accounts.
The Whanganui restaurants are open 24/7. Darren Rowland works 50 to 55 hours a week overseeing them. He also coaches Whanganui Collegiate School's top hockey team, is on the St George's Preparatory School committee, plays golf and has a new Laser sailboat he wants to try out.
The Whanganui restaurants contributed $50,000 toward a new hockey turf in Alma Rd, giving McDonald's naming rights.
The Rowlands spend $80,000 to $100,000 in sponsorships every year. These are always to sporting and active lifestyles - to counterbalance the health effects a fast food business can have.
"We are a choice that people make, but there are plenty of other choices," Rowland said.
The two enjoy nurturing the talent of their staff.
Crew wages are $18 to $22 an hour, up to manager level, and they don't pay youth rates.
What's next for this ambitious couple? They've run out of ways to expand McDonald's in this region. Anyway the two love Whanganui, and plan to stay here.
Rowland said they made some sacrifices to own the restaurants. They haven't done much overseas travel, for example, and he'd like to do more. But it has been worth it.
"We have built and own two restaurants. That was worth the sacrifice."