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Jackson sells McDonald’s franchises; to retire in Vegas

WORTHINGTON — Steve Jackson was in high school when he secured his future, though he didn’t realize it at the time.

In need of a little spending money, the Davenport, Iowa native was hired by the local McDonald’s restaurant for a 10- to 20-hour-per week gig at the front counter. Outside of football season and time off for prom, he’d collect orders for burgers and fries, salads and soft drinks if not washing the dishes behind the scenes.

“I did the dishes three nights a week for three months — that didn’t hurt me any,” he said.

When Jackson moved to Phoenix, Ariz. after high school to study business and finance at Arizona State University, he stayed with McDonald’s, although in Arizona, the uniform included not only the white hat and white shirt, but also a bolo tie.

Still, Jackson didn’t see himself making a career with McDonald’s. That realization came when he began looking at his options closer to college graduation.

“I knew I wanted to be in some kind of business and eventually own my own,” he said. “When I graduated from college, I realized I was already in a Fortune 50 company — all I had to do was sign up for more hours.”

He was offered a full-time job with McDonald’s Corp. in Phoenix, and for the next 20 years worked between the Phoenix base and major cities including San Diego and Los Angeles in California, and also on the east coast in New York and New Jersey. At one time, he was managing 25 company-owned McDonald’s restaurants between downtown L.A. and Santa Monica. He also worked in management training, restaurant supervision, owner-operator relations, real estate and construction oversight for McDonald’s.

Jackson retired from the corporate life on his 20th anniversary, which at that time meant he had the option to buy a restaurant if he’d saved enough money.

“That had always been my dream anyway,” he said. “I looked at the shopping list coast to coast and the one that was for sale and in my price range was in Worthington, Minnesota.”

Jackson and his wife, Tammy, purchased the local franchise in March 1990. Then located on the former Northland Mall site, they eventually built a new restaurant adjacent to U.S. 59, on Ray Drive.

“We opened this one in 2008,” he shared from a table near the front of the restaurant. “It was a much bigger, better location. It was the right decision at the time.”

The Jacksons soon purchased the McDonald’s in Spencer, Iowa — moving that restaurant from one end of town to the other — and briefly owned the McDonald’s in Luverne. They later sold that restaurant for the opportunity to grow into three more restaurants in Iowa — Sheldon, Storm Lake and Sioux Center.

“We bought the Iowa locations over a period of five years,” Jackson said. “Storm Lake opened just two years ago.”

Jackson’s career with McDonald’s has spanned nearly 50 years, and with an eye on retirement, he and his wife sold all five franchises in mid-July.

Retirement, however, isn’t as simple as getting a gold watch and a going-away meal, Jackson is realizing. He’s still working half-days to wrap up his business dealings. Meanwhile, the new owner of his five franchises is settled in and creating a smooth transition.

Mike Hartshorn and his son, Jordan, already own four McDonald’s franchises in the Watertown, S.D., area, and the Minnesota and Iowa restaurants provided them with an opportunity to expand — and for Jordan to “spread his wings,” Jackson said.

Jordan has moved to Milford, Iowa, and Jackson refers to the Hartshorns as good friends he’s known for decades.

“They’re very customer- and employee-focused,” he said. “I couldn’t have found two better buyers.”

Jackson said it was the employees he’s worked with that have made him a prideful owner of five McDonald’s franchises. With nearly 400 employees between the five locations, he’s helped nurture and develop their business sense.

“I have employees that have been with me for 26 years,” he said. “To be able to … bring people through a development process where they learn and save some money and put money away for college or their first car or to help pay the family bills, that’s a prideful thing operators usually hold close to their heart.

“What we can do and do for our employees and what they do for us in return, that relationship is just golden,” he added.

One might say Jackson’s career was golden as well — the golden arches have served him well.

“It was a great career — I have no regrets,” he said.

Jackson and his wife will move to Las Vegas this fall, where they have had a part-time home for the past 15 years. They look forward to being near family again, as all three of their children, and their first grandson, live in the Las Vegas or Phoenix area. Tammy’s family still resides in the Phoenix area as well.

An avid pilot, Jackson said he and his wife — the chief navigator and co-pilot — plan to do a lot of aviating in retirement.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at farmbleat.areavoices.com.

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