Alabama McDonald’s owner-operators Larry, and Dale Thornton, serve as successful entrepreneurs and community leaders but carry a father-son bond that includes the family business.
Larry Thornton Sr, a father of three, who became the first Black McDonald’s franchise owner in Birmingham, Alabama in 1992, insisted his children learn the business and gave his son Dale his first job when he was ten years old.
“My parents were very religious and so you know you go to church or you go to work and so as I got old enough where I couldn’t fall asleep anymore at church, so that’s how I started going to work,” Dale told Black Enterprise. “I remember the first day of July 20, 1992 making $2 an hour and I think I worked 9 1/2 hours and my dad gave me the $20 bill and that’s when I fell in love with making my own money.”
For Dale, more than making money, he got to spend invaluable time watching his dad run his McDonald’s franchise. As he grew up, Dale took on more responsibility, working on the register, in the kitchen and up the company chain to eventually get his own McDonald’s franchise at 25 years old.
“I cannot tell you how proud I am that he chose this and I hope that he would because it gets back to this statement I never wanted anyone to ask whatever happened to that black man who used to own the McDonald’s?” Larry Thornton said.
“Well for 30 years that hasn’t happened and with Dale’s interest, enthusiasm and passion for the business hopefully we won’t have to hear that for another 30 or 40 years. It has been a joy to watch him grow from playground manager all the way through college, getting a degree in business and being here today, I can’t think of better than having an opportunity to grow together and to watch him.”
In addition to having the fast-food giant in common, Larry and Dale are also HBCU alumni. Larry attended Alabama State University while Dale attended Miles College and both have given back to their schools.
In 2011, Larry gave his alma mater the largest donation in the school’s 150-year history with the help of McDonald’s. Dale is about to give the same gift to Miles College with the help of the fast-food giant.
“By watching what my father has done, I was motivated to do the same thing for my school,” Dale told BLACK ENTERPRISE.
“Miles is a small HBCU, but it changed my life and gave me an opportunity to get started and push forward.”
Outside of running his McDonald’s Larry is an author, artist and motivational speaker, who serves on the board of directors of Coca-Cola United one of the largest independent bottlers in the nation. Dale is also on multiple McDonald’s boards including the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama and the National Black McDonald’s Operator Association.
Now, Larry’s grandson and Dale’s son, Larry ‘Tre’ Thornton, III who is about to enter college himself, is on the same path and although he has some different dreams outside of McDonald’s, he’s also learning the business and how important the path his dad and grandfather took is.
“I feel like especially seeing how my dad came up and all my granddad does, it just gives me a model for the next generation and what I want to do for my kids,” Tre told BLACK ENTERPRISE.
“There’s an image around black dads that they’re not around and if they are around maybe the advice they have to pass down isn’t useful but the information that’s been passed down to me was the best that I could have ever received.”