They’re Lovin’ It!

Screen shot 2014-08-07 at 9.25.50 AMSisters Michelle Suarez Costello and Chrissy Suarez DiRienzo are the true essence of which the American Dream is made. Between the two of them, along with DiRienzo’s husband, Matt, and their parents, Antonia and Carmen Suarez, they are ready to open their fifth McDonald’s franchise in the Lancaster area.

“We absolutely love it and can’t think of anyplace else we’d rather be,” says DiRienzo.

“My father worked in the banking industry in New York until we were about 10 years old,” says Costello. “Many of his clients in New York owned McDonald’s restaurant franchises, and he ‘caught the bug’ when he heard of an opportunity of a restaurant opening on King Street in Lancaster.  In 1987, he moved our family from New York to Pennsylvania.  The business did extremely well.  We loved the area, and we’ve never looked back.”

Both sisters worked alongside their parents in the business during their teen years until they graduated from high school and went to college, where they each earned their undergraduate and master’s degrees.  After graduation, the two women worked in different industries for a period of time prior to returning to their roots.  DiRienzo obtained employment in marketing management at the Campbell’s Soup Company, and Costello went to work in the marketing department for a software company.

“Our parents encouraged us to work elsewhere, so we didn’t feel pressured into working in the family business,” says DiRienzo. “They wanted us to make our own choices, and if we chose to pursue other avenues, that was fine.  It was a great experience, but eventually we both felt the tug to come back and enter into the family business.  Not because we felt obligated, but because we discovered it was really where our passion was.  Having had the opportunity to work in other industries allowed us to return with a skill set so we could effectively operate and manage the businesses.”

Costello adds, “That was in the early 2000s.  Our parents, by that time, had three restaurants.  And, while they enjoyed what they were doing, they were also getting to a point where they wanted to start slowing down and eventually retire.  So the timing was right.  It was a natural transition.”

The two sisters and DiRienzo’s husband, Matt, currently operate four Lancaster-area McDonald’s restaurants and are set to open a fifth in the near future.  They each find that the day-to-day operations, along with their team, crew and customers, are what keep them moving forward and successful in a fast-paced business that can easily become overwhelming.

“They don’t call it fast food for nothing,” says DiRienzo. “We are constantly moving.  We look at every day as an opportunity. Every day is different, and the day can change within a second.  We’re constantly in motion, working with the people, managers, servers and customers.  They get to know us, and we get to know them – we are very hands-on.  We can be at the drive-through one minute and in a manager’s meeting the next.  With three operators, there is always someone on-site, and it allows us to forge relationships as we work alongside the employees.”

The girls are quick to give credit to their management staff for helping to keep things moving forward.

“Our management staff has been with us for over 15 years so there is very little turnover,” says DiRienzo.

“In fact, two members of our management team members were at the original McDonald’s my parents purchased in 1987 and are approaching their 30-year anniversary, which is amazing,” adds Costello. “…We nurture relationships with our crew and management team, and we are definitely a team.  There is also a program for managers to earn college credit, which many of our managers choose to participate in, and it creates a win-win for everyone involved.  Being a restaurateur is a tough, competitive business, so we understand it takes a village of everyone working together to produce an outcome that is not only profitable and productive, but also never losing that personal touch that people appreciate so much – even in the fast-food industry.  Many people think it is a factory-style operation, and everything is handled through our corporate conglomerate, which is such a misconception.  Each restaurant is owned and operated by an individual.  It is how you treat your customers and employees that really make the difference.  We can’t stress that enough.  It’s our employees who make us who we are.”

McDonald’s has come a long way since the drive-through $1 burger.

“Our employees are excited and encouraged by the new technology,” says DiRienzo. “People can now pay for their food with their credit or debit cards, we have a two-port drive-though, free Wi-Fi and there is now an app where people can order food from smart phones.  It’s amazing, as we enter into this new phase of technology, what opportunities arise.  It keeps it fresh, and there’s always something new to learn.  Working here is much more than just flipping burgers.”

The family is also involved in helping to support the community that have given them so much.

“Our parents always taught us to give back, and we take that literally,” says Costello. “My parents are still heavily involved in the community and sit on several boards, as do myself, my husband, sister and her husband, [Tom].  Educational programming is big to us, so we are very involved with the schools in our area.  Once a month we host ‘McTeacher nights’ where teachers and principals come in and work behind the counter taking orders.  Students love it.  We give 15 percent of what we earn that evening back to the school.”

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The two sisters and their husbands are also involved with the American Cancer Society, Boys and Girls Club and the Spanish American Civic Association (SACA).  They also sponsor baseball teams and support the area’s annual music festival, which is sponsored by local radio station WLCH.

“There is a large Puerto Rican community that resides in Lancaster, and one of the great things about WLCH, which we also sponsor, is that they broadcast everything in Spanish,” says DiRienzo.  “Not just music, but wonderful, educational and entertainment programming.”

One of the biggest accomplishments is their involvement with the Ronald McDonald House.  Originating in Philadelphia, it helps the parents and families of those children inflicted with cancer by providing housing and accommodations while the children are receiving care from the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

“We are passionate about the Ronald McDonald House,” says DiRienzo. “It’s actually approaching it’s 30th anniversary since its inception in 1984.  We used to be able to house 10 to 12 families, but now we can accommodate up to 30 families.  It’s extremely rewarding, not just for those families, but also because we are parents ourselves.”

Both sisters are quick to point out that while they love what they do, they always make time for family, following the example set by their parents.  DiRienzo and her husband have a 6-year-old son, Jack.  Costello and her husband are parents to Ryan (10), Christopher (8), Gabriella (4) and Eric (8 months).

“You can’t let the business consume you,” says DiRienzo. “You must make family time, because that’s what provides the outlet for relaxing, rejuvenating and recharging for the next morning rush.”

 

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