Back in the 1970s, as owner of McDonald's Food Mart in East Prairie, McDonald was looking for a used slicer for his business. The more calls he made, the more he realized there was a niche market being overlooked.
"Well, I bought a new slicer," explained McDonald. "And I started a new business."
McDonald's business offering used restaurant equipment began in a small warehouse in East Prairie. "I found that rather than a sideline, it grew into a full-time business really quickly," he said.
Over the next 20 years, McDonald and his wife, Pat, would develop their equipment business, McDonald's Fixtures and Equipment, into a full-time operation, with two warehouses and customers nationwide. Originally intending to offer used equipment, the company soon added new equipment as manufacturer representatives became familiar with the Southeast Missouri businessowners.
"I've hooked up with manufacturers all over the United States," said McDonald. He explained this wasn't easy since restaurant equipment manufacturers typically are very careful in choosing suppliers, wanting to ensure quality and service for their customers.
Now his business has expanded again.
In 2002, the McDonalds opened Sikeston Restaurant Equipment at 803 S. Main St. Their son, Brad, serves as the store's manager. Until the opening of the new store, McDonald did much of his business over the phone. Restaurants owners, grocers and others needing equipment would call him, he in turn would check his warehouse or order directly from the manufacturer for shipping to customers.
"Our market is mainly a 100 mile radius, but we also have customers in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois," said McDonald. "We ship all over the United States. I've built up a large network of customers over the last 20 years."
That network, he admits, sometimes surprises him. He expected a list of customers to include restaurants and grocery stores, but today he also assists those who operate convenience stores, hospitals and nursing homes along with churches and organizations.
Through Sikeston Restaurant Equipment they can find everything from smallware - which Mrs. McDonald explained are things like forks, knives, condiment bottles, plates, etc.- to 60 gallon pots to full-size walk-in coolers. There are popcorn machines and coffee machines, deep-fat fryers and ice makers.
"People are often surprised by the amount of inventory we carry - it is a huge amount for this business," continued Mrs. McDonald.
To make her point, she noted that just that morning a businessowner called in need of an ice machine. They had it in stock and by mid-afternoon it was loaded on a truck and heading to Arkansas. "They found what they wanted and they didn't have to wait," she said.
And, Mrs. McDonald pointed out. If it isn't in stock, they can place an order, having it shipped overnight to the customer.
Customers are pleased by the costs, too. Bulk-buying is the secret to their low prices, said McDonald. "We are going to be as competitive or more so than anyone in this area between St. Louis and Memphis. We will meet or beat a competitor's prices nine out of 10 times," he emphasized.
Another secret, added Mrs. McDonald, is by being a family-owned business they are able to keep overhead low. The lines carried at Sikeston Restaurant Equipment include True refrigeration, which provides almost 70 percent of the beverage cooler business in the U.S. and much of the international business, McDonald said. Customers will also find Masterbilt, which makes coolers, U.S. Range, Ice-O-Matic and Scotsman ice machines, Duke Convection Ovens ("no relation," laughed McDonald), Star fryers and grills, Fry-Master and other brands.
With two decades of experience in selling restaurant equipment and even more years as a businessman, McDonald uses his background to assist his customers. While they look at the equipment, he questions them on the possible uses, making suggestions about what will best fill their needs. He even has gone to construction sites to offer recommendations about kitchen design to make the best use of equipment after it arrives.
Sikeston Restaurant Equipment provides service for the equipment sold, according to the owners, who add they stand behind everything they sell.
"I believe people should get personal service," said McDonald about his business. "You have to offer a good price and it is important that people feel comfortable doing business with you. That is the only way I can operate."
Even more people may soon become familiar with the McDonalds and their way of doing business. McDonald said since Sikeston Restaurant Equipment has proved to be a success they are considering opening stores in the Mt. Vernon, Ill., area and possibly Memphis, Tenn.
Sikeston Restaurant Equipment is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and by appointment.