Small Fry Wins Mcdonald's War -- Farm Town Ronald Mcdonald Leaves Rival With Fallen Arches

FAIRBURY, Ill. - In the battle of McDonald vs. McDonald's in this tiny central Illinois farming community, the golden arches tumbled and the small fry came out on top.

Ronald McDonald - the man - owns McDonald's Family Restaurant, a family-owned, sit-down eatery that his parents opened in 1956 in this town of 3,200.

Ronald McDonald - the clown - packed up when the owners of the local McDonald's franchise closed their outlet July 26.

It was a rare failure for McDonald's Corp., which has more than twice as many U.S. franchises as Fairbury has people.

"Most of our customers tried it once and never went back. They say they don't miss it and they are glad we won out," said Ron McDonald, whose wife, Sue, helps run the 240-seat restaurant specializing in roasted chicken and other Midwestern fare.

Over the years, the McDonald family has received dozens of letters and several phone calls from the fast-food giant, reminding them of the corporation's determination to protect its trademarks and copyrights.

After some legal wrangling, the possessive "s" disappeared from the signs and stationery of the locally owned restaurant by the time the fast-food McDonald's opened a mile up the street about three years ago.

Locals just called the family-owned place "McDonald's East" and the fast-food joint, "McDonald's West."

"The other place never really took off," Ron McDonald said. "There are a lot of retired people in town. . . . They don't patronize fast-food places much."

Chuck Ebeling, a spokesman for Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's Corp., said the presence of the family McDonald's had no bearing on the decision to close the franchise.

"Closings rarely happen because we are normally very good at site evaluation," he said.

He said the decision to locate a franchise in Fairbury was made when the company was just beginning to expand into "nontraditional" markets, such as small towns.

Shortly after the fast-food outlet closed, the possessive "s" went back on the stationery and menus at what is once again known as the one and only McDonald's in Fairbury.

"Yep, we're back to using it again," Ron McDonald said.