What to expect: A whole new look inside with lighted tables, table service, an enhanced kids area, increased community support — and drive-through-only service for a few months once renovations start next spring.
By Natalie Simms
It’s been just over a month since native Roman Jim Aaron bought the McDonald’s franchise at 1504 Turner McCall Blvd., making it his eighth restaurant. He’s already making improvements and has some big changes planned for 2019 and beyond.
“I’m a lifelong Rome guy. I started work at McDonald’s in West Rome 41 years ago for $2.30 an hour and worked my way through college at Berry,” says Aaron. “Then I spent 37 years with McDonald’s corporation and then started buying franchises because I wanted to make a difference in lives our people, customers and the community.”
Nearly five years ago, Aaron purchased his first franchise in Eastern Tennessee and now has two others in Tennessee and five in Georgia, including two in Rome (East Rome and Armuchee), Summerville, LaFayette and Chickamauga.
“I own all the locations on U.S. 27 from Rome to Chattanooga,” he says. “I bought the Armuchee location on Martha Berry Highway about one and a half years ago. We did a lot of people development and a complete makeover of the restaurant and have grown tremendously there.”
Many of the changes he’s implemented at the Armuchee location also are being made at the East Rome restaurant. One of first changes was scratch-made biscuits at all his locations.
“I’m an old school guy and so I converted all my restaurants to made-from-scratch biscuits, no more frozen biscuits here. We also now offer $1 coffee either hot or iced, plus several manager’s specials that we are proud to serve,” he says.
One of the biggest improvements he’s already made is replacing some of the kitchen equipment, including a new ice cream machine and upgraded frappe machine.
“I have long heard the problems about these machines from customers, so I have spent thousands of dollars to replace these machines. We have trained the staff on how to maintain the machines, so I hope we no longer have any problems,” says Aaron.
What’s next in East Rome
But the biggest changes to the East Rome location will be coming in 2019. It is one of hundreds across the state that are being updated as part of the fast-food chain’s $6 billion nationwide modernization effort. The company and its franchisees are investing approximately $170 million in Georgia on the construction and modernization of 340 McDonald’s restaurants, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.
“The exterior is great but the inside is a little dated. It was owned by the corporation before I bought it but it’s been years since any kind of work has been done inside. So, next year, I plan to gut the inside and start over with new seating and décor,” he says. “The Play Place will also be gutted and changed to a more modern look. It will be huge and bright, like the one at Martha Berry.”
Aaron also plans to add lighted tables with digital games like the ones at the Martha Berry location.
“We will be adding more technology with self-ordering kiosks like we have at the Martha Berry location. We will also be adding outdoor digital boards in the drive through…so instead of the static board like we have now, there will be large TV panels that we will be able to change with the push of a button,” he says. “It helps ensure accuracy because there will be a customer order display built into the menu board.”
Customers will still be able to order at the counter the traditional way as they always have but Aaron says many of the changes are geared to “stay relevant” to the customer.
“The younger generation likes being able to order and pay at the upright kiosks and then the food is brought to your table. We will be adding this table service to East Rome once the renovations are complete,” he says.
“We also have mobile ordering so you can order on your phone and then just pick it up at the restaurant. We will also gradually move to delivery with Uber Eats when it is available in Rome.
“We are taking steps to stay relevant to the consumer. One change we have made it cooking fresh-to-order Quarter-Pounders. Our chicken is now without antibiotics or preservatives. I am really excited about all the new things coming from the corporation.”
Aaron hopes to start renovations at East Rome next spring after he completes the makeover of his LaFayette restaurant this fall. The East Rome McDonald’s will be closed on the inside for a number of weeks while the work is under way but the drive-through will be open to serve customers.
“We are doing the best we can in making a difference in our people, to our customers, in our community and for the brand where we are,” says Aaron.
“I want to give more opportunities for our people to make a difference in more communities. I’m very passionate about our schools. We sponsor all high schools in the community with athletic sponsorships. I also support the Berry football team and am starting to do more with Shorter.”
As for the future, Aaron says, “I do want to continue to grow in the future. So many ask me for a number, how many restaurants would I like to own. But I don’t have a number…it will just work out as the opportunities arise.”