Industry News | November 5, 2003

First McCafe Set To Open Tomorrow

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"Going to McDonald's used to be a simple matter of ordering a number 3 combo with a Coke. Now you have dozens of coffees to choose from, and all of these desserts."

These were the words a television reporter, motioning at a tray of baked goods, said on camera as he walked through the first McCafe set to open in the U.S.

No, this isn't exactly your father's McDonald's, though it is in an existing McDonald's store. Driving up to the unit in Raleigh, North Carolina, one is struck by the elegance of the exterior. Walk inside, and you wonder if this can really be a McDonald's. To one side is the traditional McDonald's counter with the traditional McDonald's menu; in a separate alcove is the coffeehouse counter, complete with baristas, fancy coffee drinks, and a dizzying array of pastries, sandwiches, and cakes. The decor is woody and upscale—dare we say beautiful—and wi-fi access is available.

McCafe is a concept born in Australia, and it has been a hit both there and in New Zealand. Now the company wants to duplicate that success in the U.S.

Thus they decided to open the first unit at the store of franchisee Carol Martin and her son, Buck, who, according to the company, run a top-notch operation. (McDonald's actually opened a McCafe in Chicago in 2001 but closed it after a short time due to building construction.)

If the food and coffee served at a media reception the day before grand opening are any indication, both are quite good—and inexpensive. A large latte, for instance, sells for just $2.50. It is, as company literature says, "a coffeehouse without a superiority complex."

Why McCafe? According to Mats Lederhausen, president of the business development group at McDonald's Corp., the concept is an actual extension and growth of the McDonald's brand. That is, it falls under the rubric of the Golden Arches in a way that partner brands like Chipotle do not.

Several more units are slated to open in the Raleigh market, as well as a couple in the Bay Area, in the next few months. When QSR told Buck Martin we'd be anxious to see how sales went, he responded the only way he really could.

"So," he said, "will we."