No, Polish-American McDonald’s Corporation Chief Executive Officer, Chris Kempczynski, is not necessarily under fire from nutritionists about the health qualities of the fast-food chain’s cuisine, but it’s not too hard to imagine that’s why some critics are currently angry with him, especially dieticians concerned about Americans spreading waistlines. But this story will focus on a new controversy facing the largest food franchise’s top executive, who manages a chain boasting 40,000 restaurants in the world, with 14,000 in the United States alone. But first, a little background.
McDONALD’S: AMERICA’S FAVORITE RESTAURANT
In the early 1960s, the McDonald’s hamburger restaurant was turned into the most successful fast food chain in the world through the organizational genius of Ray Kroc, the son of Czech immigrants, Alois Kroc and Rose Marie Hrach-Kroc. The young Kroc simplified the menu with industrialized precision, serving fresh, fast hot “All-American” hamburger patties on soft buns served with French fries and cold drinks.
What adult doesn’t remember McDonald’s with mouth-watering nostalgia? In the mid-60s we begged our father to take us to “Micky D’s” for a special treat. And although he didn’t care for the food there, he usually indulged us, driving to one of the Golden Arches to satisfy our hunger. (Stan preferred the Polish-style hamburgers made by my mother’s aunt, Julia Surdej, who used to fry a very thick patty of seasoned ground beef in lard in a cast-iron skillet).
Being the “husky kid I was, (a clerk at the kid’s clothing section at Sattler’s Department store on Broadway, simply called me fat) I greedily devoured the usual order of three McDonald’s regular hamburgers, two orders of French fries, washed down by a small carton of milk (not pop!) At the time the greasy, tasty burgers were 15 cents apiece, and the fries cost 12 cents. Today, the same order is still pretty affordable, at $2.49 per burger and $1.39 for a regular pack of fries.
To be sure, we all greatly enjoyed the Polish food lovingly prepared by my mother, grandmother and aunts, but we surely enjoyed the occasional McDonald’s treat. And, after all, delicious as it was, we could hardly say that tasty, stick-to-your ribs Polish cuisine was “diet food.” Today, I may indulge my McDonald’s craving only once or twice a year.
SISTER MIECZYSLAWA AND DAN GORSKE
Just another aside before I get to the Kempczynski part of this story. That McDonald’s is a world-wide phenomenon cannot be in doubt. I’ll never forget how much Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski’s secretary, Sister Mary Mieczyslawa, loved McDonald’s hamburgers when she visited her good friend in Buffalo, Mary Jung, secretary to the Father Justin Rosary Hour, the oldest and longest-running Polish-language radio program in the United States. Sister Mieczyslawa never had a McDonald’s hamburger before, but when she tried one, she couldn’t get enough. She clapped her hands in glee whenever she saw the huge Golden Arches shaped like the letter “M,” which she said stood for “Mieczyslawa!”
Another McDonald’s fanatic is Dan Gorske, who has eaten 32,000 Big Mac sandwiches every day since 1972. The Wisconsin native, a retired corrections officer, looks pretty thin and apparently has normal blood sugar and cholesterol. The Gorske surname traces back to Alexander Gorske, who was born in Poland and had relatives in Buffalo. His name was listed as ending with an “e,” not the more familiar “i.” Gorske’s culinary feat made the Guinness World Book of Records.
BREAKDOWN OF AMERICAN FAMILY TROUBLES KEMPCZYNSKI
So how did Chris Kempczynski gain the ire of some politicians and critics and win the praise of others (including this writer.) It seems that he got in trouble by merely stating the obvious. Although born in Boston and raised in Cincinnati, Kempczynski currently lives in Chicago, where he is deeply troubled by the rise of violent crime in the “Windy City.”
Once the home of a Polish population said to be larger than Warsaw, Chicago, like many big American cities, has been wracked by violent crime. Kempczynski was particularly upset by the senseless shooting and killing of a 7-year old African-American girl who was waiting for her food at a McDonald’s drive-through window recently. A young Latino boy was also tragically gunned down at a Chicago McDonald’s.
Kempczynski said that one of the causes of violent crime can be traced to the break-down of the American family, where a nurturing two-parent home environment steers children in a positive direction. Studies have undeniably shown that although most single-family households raise decent, productive children, the highest percentage of young people who become incarcerated or get into criminal behavior are overwhelmingly from one-parent homes. In some of Chicago’s highest crime neighborhoods, 75% of the children are born out of wedlock.
For stating what seems to be the obvious, Kempczynski’s reasonable remarks triggered an aggressive storm of attacks, led by Chicago Mayor Laurie Lightfoot and some public advocacy groups, who called him “racist, anti-people of color and victim shaming.” Lightfoot, who has presided over a 37% increase in violent crime in her city, concurred with the assessment that Kempczynski’s remarks were “ignorant, racist and unacceptable coming from anyone, let alone CEO of McDonald’s.”
TO THE RESCUE
Kempczynski’s cousin, Robert Siedlecki, is a Cornell and Harvard University trained lawyer who is general counsel for the International Organization of the Family. He also worked for the United States Justice Department. He recently penned an article stating “My Cousin Was Right,” defending Kempczynski’s comments about the breakdown of the family and the rise of crime.
Siedlecki writes that “children from broken homes or never-formed families do poorly on a whole host of outcomes.” He also quotes former President Barrack Obama, a strong family man, who observed that “of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, the family is the most important.”
WHO IS CHRIS
So, who is Chris Kempczynski? He surely comes from a solid family background. He is the son of the late Harvard educated, Dr. Richard Kempczynski, an eminent vascular surgeon and his mother, Ann-Marie, a primary school teacher. The Kempczynski’s were active members of Cincinnati’s St. Gertrude Roman Catholic Church. The September 2022 Parish Bulletin of St. Gertrude’s features a quote and portrait of Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska, whose sainthood was realized by Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II.
Apparently, a strong family background gave Chris Kempczynski a leg-up to a very successful life. He worked diligently, earning a degree in business at Harvard University, working his way up at Proctor and Gamble, Pepsi Cola and Kraft Foods.
In 2015 the 54 -year-old was made vice president at McDonald’s, and only four years later was named McDonald’s CEO. And McDonald’s has no problem with Kempczynski’s remarks on family, with a wife and two kids of his own. In May of this year, they raised Chris Kempczynski’s salary to $20-million a year.