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Mr. Big

Welcome to McDonald's, where Steve Bigari is lovin' it.

It's a bold idea, and it may be working. John Milliman, a business professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, analyzed how America's Family had impacted workers at Bigari's restaurants. During the first two years of the organization's operation, he found that turnover had dropped 93 percent. Employees reported a high satisfaction with most America's Family components, and a majority said they'd need to be offered at least a dollar more an hour to leave their jobs with Bigari. Milliman is impressed with the success of America's Family, but worries that the head of the family may be too busy. "Somebody's got to spend a huge amount of time to make this scalable," he says. "Steve is obviously a very gifted leader. He's doing so many things, and you can't blame him, but it's hard for him to devote all of his time to America's Family."

Bigari doesn't deny that. "Often I'm running so fast I'm not listening to God," he admits. That's why he keeps the "Slow Me Down, Lord" prayer on his office wall:

Remind me each day of the fable of the hare and the tortoise that I may know that the race is not always to the swift; that there is more to life than increasing its speed.


On Wednesday, October 17, within minutes of the start of the world-record attempt, a three-car-wide river of Nissans, Hondas, Rams and Plymouths circles Bigari's restaurant. Over and over, the same conversation plays out on the speaker boxes: "How may I help you?" "Quarter Pounder, please." "Will that be all?" "Yes." "That'll be 25 cents at the window." McDonald's bags and Quarter Pounder boxes accumulate in automobile seats as kids wearing trucker hats grab their fifth Quarter Pounder and scream, "We're going for another round! Yeah!" Drivers call their friends and neighbors, telling them to get down to the restaurant.

A female newscaster in a pink sports coat angles a microphone at an open driver's-side window. "Mind if I ask you..." But she's too late. The car is already past her, part of a great, thousand-wheeled machine. No time to talk. Must buy Quarter Pounders.

And at the most critical juncture, where returning customers merge with new customers, there's Bigari, arms waving like a concert director. "Over here! Go! Move! Squeeze them in! Let's go!" Then, "No! Stop! Do NOT go!" as a woman and her young children walk out of the restaurant and into the flow of cars. When he has a moment to spare, he surveys the operation. "This is the ballet, man!"

But it's not dancing fast enough. At 12:30 p.m., Bigari receives sobering news. They moved 306 cars in the first hour, 22 short of a new record. And now Bigari may be running out of customers. The problem doesn't seem to be pace, but volume. Once snaking all the way around the restaurant, the line of cars is now just six vehicles long. "We didn't expect this," says Bigari. He spies a customer leaving the parking lot. "Come on, you can say you are a part of it!" he yells. "Come back! Go around one more time!"

Bigari breaks from his drive-thru choreography and hurries into the restaurant. Moments later he runs out, grasping a receipt and wearing a wide grin. They did 349 cars between 11:45 and 12:45! "349, baby!" he shouts, licking his finger and making a notch in the air.

He runs back into the kitchen, slapping hands and knocking knuckles, yelling, "Spankin'!" As the crew whoops in excitement, he grabs a crispy chicken sandwich and slides into a booth with business partner Shugart and Joe Johnson, president of Bigari Food Enterprises. They'll run another world-record attempt the next day, and the day after that, to try to raise the bar. Jack Preiss, the old record-holder in Cheyenne, is surely going to try to beat 349. The three discuss ways to improve the operation. Handing out fliers to customers in line, explaining the rules of the quarter-for-a-Quarter deal? Shugart jokes that they should get rid of the people whose faces are attached to their cell phones. Then the ideas start getting bigger. If Preiss breaks the record, Bigari will just have to beat it again. Maybe they can turn it into a friendly rivalry, getting the mayors of Colorado Springs and Cheyenne involved. Heck, maybe...

Bigari smiles and takes a bite of his sandwich, 30,000 feet high.

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