Steve Short jumped at the opportunity in 1994 to own a McDonald’s restaurant in Belleville.
The father of four had to promise 7-year-old daughter Jessica two things before he moved his family from Anna, a town of 4,000 on the southern tip of Illinois, to the metro-east.
“A puppy and a playground set in the backyard,” said Steve, 57, a friendly guy in a black polo shirt with a golden arches logo.
It was the right move on both counts.
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He now owns nine McDonald’s restaurants, three in Illinois (Freeburg, Mascoutah, and Chester), and six in Missouri (Pevely, two in Festus, Bloomsdale, St. Genevieve and Perryville). Jessica Lucas, 29, followed in Dad and her grandfather Jim Short’s footsteps.
The family has owned and operated McDonald’s franchises in the metro-east for 37 years. Jessica, a 2005 Mascoutah High grad, is director of operations for the family’s stores and on June 1 acquired her first: the New Baden store. Dad sold it to her.
“It’s pretty cool,” she said, sitting alongside dad Steve at the Freeburg McDonald’s. “Dad is an owner, my grandfather was an owner, I am an owner.”
Jim Short, Steve’s dad, grew up in Pikeville, Ky.
“You either worked in the coal mines or went to Chicago and got a job,” said Steve. “He eventually owned a Shell gas station (in Chicago). He worked on McDonald’s people’s cars. He was a good guy. He worked hard. He had a good work ethic. One day, someone asked him, ‘Did you ever thing of owning a McDonald’s?’ He said, ‘I know cars, and how to fix them.’”
In 1979, Jim Short, who didn’t finish his sophomore year of high school, opened Anna’s first McDonald’s.
“Dad had no trouble moving from one successful business to another,” said Steve, who was 20 at the time. “The principles are the same. Work hard. Take care of people. Take care of your staff. Keep the place looking great. Opportunity will present itself. He kept adding restaurants.”
Until he had six. Now 78 and retired, Jim still lives in Anna.
Steve’s older daughter, Chrissy Hurst, owns four McDonald’s in Missouri. (His daughter Laura Koehler is a psychologist; daughter Cassie Erschen works for State Farm). His brother Dean has eight and a sister Tina has nine in southern Illinois.
“I was doing the math the other day,” he said. “We’re right at 30.”
According to the McDonald’s website, the company requires a minimum of $500,000 to consider you for a franchise. After all, McDonald's is the world’s largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants, serving about 68 million customers daily in 119 countries across 36,535 outlets.
Steve was 35 in 1994 when he acquired three stores, one across from Belleville Fairgrounds, one across from Belleville East and one in Swansea, all of which he later sold.
“The opportunity was good. This area was growing. I bought (Freeburg) in ’97 and Mascoutah in ’99.”
Steve, wife Susan and their four daughters lived in their “dream house” in The Orchards from 1994 to 2014 before moving to Festus, Mo., two years ago. Jessica played volleyball and soccer in high school and took dance lessons at a studio. A perk? Telling friends her family owned the McDonald’s in town.
“I thought it was cool.”
So was getting her first job there at 16.
“It was great. I had always been around McDonald’s. (Dad) would go in at night ... I saw how hard and how much he worked.”
Back then, she wanted to be a teacher.
“I have a passion for kids. I thought it was a good path for me when I started college at SIUE.
“When I didn’t have anything going on and if I wasn’t doing sports, I would work here. I was a crew person. I’d open and close. I became a shift manager, a second assistant manager, a first assistant ... I liked it. I liked the people. I didn’t know it was going to be my career. (Dad) always told me from the beginning, ‘Do what you want to do.’”
She switched majors junior year, graduating with a business administration degree with specialization in marketing.
Jessica met husband James at a McDonald’s managers’ convention.
“He has ketchup in his veins, too.”
Now married three years, they have a daughter, Kinsley, who will be 2 on July 7. She was the impetus for Steve and Susan’s move to Festus.
“Once the grandkid came along, we were going over,” said Steve. “This is 50 minutes from Festus. I am still here all the time.”
A good place to come
On a rainy Monday morning, father and daughter sat alongside each other at the Freeburg McDonald’s. Near the entrance, a table of regulars drank coffee. Curt and Betty Benedick, of Smithton, finished a meal with daughter Lisa Christophe, of Belleville.
“It’s our Monday breakfast,” said Betty. “Our granddaughter meets us and then goes to work.”
“I love the breakfasts,” said Curt.
“We are kind of watching it,” said Lisa. “We have the parfaits. My daughter gets oatmeal.”
“This is a good place to come,” said Betty.
“Good service,” said Lisa. “They don’t mess up your order.”
Music to Steve’s ears.
“Sitting here, I know they are running a good system,” he said of the Freeburg staff. “I haven’t had to jump up and help. They are trained by us. They know the secret to be a good running restaurant is to be on the floor.”
Jessica becoming a McDonald’s owner was not a slam-dunk, but she did have an in through the Next Generation Program for children of operators.
“When McDonald’s thinks she’s ready, I can sell her a restaurant,” said Steve, who gave her stock over the years. “She probably buys cheaper than someone on the street.”
The future? “Greener labels, getting rid of preservatives,” said Steve.
The hardest part of the job? “Motivating people.”
Father and daughter learn from each other.
“I have brought in the technology side,” said Jessica. Email and apps have replaced faxes. “It’s a whole new world for him. It’s not his comfort zone, but he has always said he’s open to evolving.”
Dad’s expertise? “Finances and financing big projects,” she said. “MRPs (major remodeling projects). My dad is very detail-oriented. He will tell me the same thing, over and over and over. I got my detailedness from him.”
Can he take an order?
“Of course,” said Steve, “but I am struggling on the café machine ... When the café line started, I didn’t know what a latté was. When it comes to burgers and fries, I am good.”
He cleans up, too.
“I’ll grab a broom. If I have to take out trash, there is nothing wrong with that.”
“He sweeps often,” said his daughter.
“Now the joke is, that’s what I am good at.”
- Steve Short: “A quarter pounder with cheese is the best... I still have to get fries. Life is too short not to have some good stuff.”
- Jessica Lucas: “ I love breakfast, an egg white delight or oatmeal. They didn’t exist when I was growing up.”
- When not at McDonald’s? “We all love pizza,” said Steve.