Meet the man opening up McDonald’s across Norfolk

The new Dereham McDonald's has opened - Franchisee Kenny Russell behind the counter in the new resta

The new Dereham McDonald's has opened - Franchisee Kenny Russell behind the counter in the new restaurant. Picture: Matthew Usher.

He runs a business employing 850 staff with annual revenues of £22m but Kenny Russell still can't resist going behind the counter and - yes - flipping burgers.

The new Dereham McDonald's has opened - Franchisee Kenny Russell (front left) with staff outside the

The new Dereham McDonald's has opened - Franchisee Kenny Russell (front left) with staff outside the new restaurant. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Despite opening his ninth McDonald's franchise restaurant in Dereham last week, with his 10th at Barton Mills on the A11 to follow before the end of the month, he is keen to emphasise that rolling up your sleeves and leading from the front is embedded in the company's culture.

Mr Russell, 49, is now the leading McDonald's franchisee in Norfolk and yet his business success story started rather more humbly as a 16-year-old staff member in a restaurant in Luton.

He is keen to dispel the myth - 'thankfully fewer and fewer people believe it these days' - that working in McDonald's is a dead end job and his own experience provides compelling evidence that it isn't.

He said: 'I progressed through the junior ranks to become a restaurant manager by the age of 20 and then an area supervisor looking after four restaurants in the Bedfordshire/Hertfordshire area.

The new Dereham McDonald's has opened - Franchisee Kenny Russell behind the counter in the new resta

The new Dereham McDonald's has opened - Franchisee Kenny Russell behind the counter in the new restaurant. Picture: Matthew Usher.


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'By my late 20s I was an operations manager looking after 35 to 40 restaurants along the M1 corridor. For every position, McDonald's has a fantastic management training programme.'

It was always his ambition to become a franchisee - today 65pc of McDonalds's restaurants are operated in this way - and his first opportunity came in 2001 when he bought the franchise for Longwater Retail Park on the edge of Norwich.

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He said: 'Swaffham followed in 2005 and then Haymarket, Norwich in 2007. I opened four more in Norwich in 2008 - that was a busy year - and then Thetford came along in 2010.'

Mr Russell's two latest restaurants, representing a £1.75m investment, form part of McDonald's Experience of the Future programme that will ultimately see all restaurants modernised.

At Dereham, he is keen to point out the double drive through lanes to speed up service and the touch-screen ordering kiosks inside the restaurant that make fast food even faster.

'My restaurant in Boundary Road, Norwich is currently shut for a £450,000 refurbishment and that is being given an Experience of the Future makeover for its reopening on September 24,' he said.

The father of three, who ironically lives in barren McDonald's territory at Wymondham - 'People are always asking me if I am going to open one there' - plans to extend his empire in the future.

'I have not set numbers on it, but I'll certainly take the opportunity of buying new franchises when they arise,' he said.

Early days at Dereham have exceeded expectation and Mr Russell is already planning to increase the 90-strong staff by a further 25 over the next two to three weeks.

He said the changing attitude to McDonald's as a career choice was shown by the 200 applicants they received for Dereham in just two weeks.

He said: 'We hold open days for parents and they go away amazed. They thought little Billy was starting a dead end job and go away impressed by the great career opportunities.

'All three of my area managers started as staff members, two of them on day one at Swaffham. We don't advertise for managers as we naturally fill the positions from within our own ranks.

'Seeing the progression of staff is what has given me the biggest buzz throughout my career. I see someone who was shy at interview transformed into a great character just two weeks later.'

He added that they had more than 60 current apprentices and nearly 150 had passed through their programme.

Mr Russell said the reason McDonald's had for so long been underrated as a career choice was the former insular culture of the company - now it was proud to shout out about the opportunities.

'We participate in a lot of career fairs and go into schools these days,' he said.

He said the company had also become far more effective about trumpeting its vastly changing menu options.

'The brand has changed hugely with the times. A few years ago we did not offer salads and fruit. Beef has traditionally been from British and Irish farms but that was something we never used to make a lot of,' he said.

'When I started McDonald's offered only about 10 products; now there are more than 60.'

Mr Russell said there was also a far broader mix of customers these days, a point well illustrated by the morning crowd in Dereham where mums with young children were mingling with pensioners and suited businessmen opening their laptops.

The advent of good coffee and wifi had opened up the now thriving market of business customers, he said.

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