arlene Chung comes from a hardworking background beginning on Oahu, when she started working for McDonald’s while still a high school student. She would eventually become a manager. She met and married fellow manager Frankie Chung in 1991 and they raised two sons together.
Frankie was an immigrant who learned English while working as an entry level McDonald’s employee. He quickly climbed the managerial ranks and was recognized in the top 1 percent of managers in the nation by the time he realized his dream of owning a McDonald’s franchise and acquiring all five Kauai restaurants in 2009.
Frankie was 49 years old when he passed away in 2011. Darlene continued their dream of a family enterprise and now one of her own sons is working to be certified as an owner-operator and manages the Lihue restaurant.
The long-term renovation of all five stores continues — with two down, and three to go.
The Garden Island: Who instilled your entrepreneurial values and work ethic?
Darlene Chung: My father and my husband were great role models for me.
TGI: Where did you grow up, go to school, and what types of work did you do to get your career started?
DC: I grew up in West Oahu and went to Pearl City High School. Besides a few part-time jobs, I also got my start working at McDonald’s in Waiakamilo.
TGI: Did you own other businesses before McDonald’s?
DC: No, McDonald’s is the first business I have owned and operated.
TGI: What made McDonalds an appealing idea for you?
DC: Owning a McDonald’s restaurant was appealing for my late husband Frankie because he knew he had the opportunity to purchase additional restaurants in the future.
TGI: Was the Kapaa replacement store the first remodel-rebuild of a store or were others already done? Are there more coming?
DC: No, Lihue was the first rebuild when we purchased the Kauai restaurants. Waipouli is our second rebuild and we hope to rebuild others in the future.
TGI: How has owning a McDonald’s franchise changed from when you started until now?
DC: Owning a restaurant is very different from working for McDonald’s Corporation. I am still learning the ropes of being an owner-operator since my husband’s passing. It is challenging, but definitely rewarding to be your own boss.
TGI: What roles did you play in daily operations when you started and what roles do you play today?
DC: When my husband and I moved to Kauai in 2009, I worked the “back of the business” and focused on training our managers. Today I work closely with both our loyal customers and our hard-working crew to ensure operations run smoothly.
TGI: What is different with the Hawaii or Kauai McDonald’s from the Mainland stores in terms of foods, customer service, employee opportunities, etc?
DC: Our culture is what makes our Hawaii restaurants unique. In Hawaii, we are very fortunate to be able to serve local breakfast platters, saimin and Royal Kona Blend coffee that appeal to the local palate. I am also proud to say that we partner with local vendors who supply many of these ‘ono products. People should know that 43 cents of every dollar spent at a McDonald’s in Hawaii goes back into Hawaii’s economy.
TGI: As a proud owner of a successful American icon restaurant chain, how do you respond to the critics of McDonalds, whether its about employee pay and opportunities, environmental, health and nutrition and impact on other businesses?
DC: Yes, I am very proud to be an owner of a successful American icon and one of the most valuable brands in the world. Only in America would this be possible — the Great American Dream for you to own your own business. I always like to keep my focus on the positive things we do.
TGI: What do you attribute your own success and the success of your businesses?
DC: Without a doubt, what makes any company successful is its people. I am humbled to be working with such a great staff and my customers that patronize the business are what make it possible to succeed even in these tough times.