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You Deserve a Break

By Carol Vinzant
The Washington Post
Sunday, July 20, 1997; Page E04

From: Chicago's O'Hare International

Diversion: McDonald's #1 Store Museum, Des Plaines, Ill.

Requirements: 90 minutes, $26 round-trip cab fare, or more time and a few bucks via subway and bus.

On this spot in 1955, an enterprising beverage machine salesman named Ray Kroc built his first restaurant dedicated entirely to a newly mobile America, hoping to lure vacationers with quick service and 15-cent hamburgers. This makes this modest suburban intersection the U.S. equivalent of the Tigris and Euphrates, the cradle of hamburger- and-fries civilization.

Compared with the comfortable, fully featured McDonald's restaurants of today, #1 is nearly Amish in its spareness, a red-and-white tiled shack with no inside dining space, just a walk-up service window.

Inside, two women, also relics of the era, tell the McDonald's tale and hand out free postcards. You can see ye olde deep fryer, industrial-size cans of ketchup, an antique potato-scouring machine, an antediluvian shake mixer and an authentic root beer barrel. Male mannequins in period attire tend to the plastic food.

The restaurant's inspiration -- an eatery built in 1953 by two brothers named McDonald -- is in Downey, Calif. Some call that remaining unit of the McDonald brothers "the first McDonald's." But if you're looking for the first restaurant that actually has something to do with the international chain -- the one built by Kroc with the signature details that would eventually come to dominate the American foodscape -- you'll want to visit the tidy Des Plaines unit.

Sentimental types in this working-class suburb of 53,000, along with preservationists, rallied to revive the store after the company tore it down in the mid-'80s. The company rebuilt the original store from blueprints and brought in the memorabilia. If visitors get hungry, that's fine: There's a fully modern McDonald's right across the street.

Hop an airport cab to the intersection of Rand and Route 45 in Des Plaines. Or take the CTA blue line train from O'Hare to the first stop, Rosemont; take the 230 Pace bus to the fourth stop. On Miner/Dempster Street, walk northwest a half-block, then turn right on Lee Street and walk four blocks. 400 N. Lee St. Summer hours: Thursday-Saturday, noon-4 p.m. 847-297-5022.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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