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From Burger Flipper to Big Apple Boss: How Paul Hendel Built A Life at McDonald’s

Paul Hendel proves that retail jobs do not have to mean dead end. Read his inspiring story of leaving college to pursue a different path!

Jill Caren
By Jill Caren
Updated March 8th, 2024

Forget the suits and stock tickers – in the 1970s, the hottest gig around belonged to the kids in McDonald’s uniforms.

Paul Hendel was one of them.

At 16, he was stoked to join the crew at his local Merrick, NY spot for the fries, friends, and a cool $1.85 an hour. It was just a way to make some cash before college, or so he thought.

Hendel was raring to go, aiming for Wall Street and a business degree once high school was over. But fifty years later, he’s flipping the script – instead of stocks, he manages 31 McDonald’s restaurants across New York’s hottest boroughs.

Even the flagship Times Square location calls him ‘boss.’

While many people do not consider fast food a great option – he clearly proves them all wrong!

The Turning Point (and a Tempting Offer)

Hendel’s golden arches success story was almost over before it began.

As he packed up for his very first college semester, his manager had a life-altering proposition: a new McDonald’s in Glen Cove needed leadership. Hendel grabbed the chance, balancing textbooks and Big Macs.

“Sure, I sacrificed some parties,” Hendel admits, “but that job paid off bigger than any frat bash ever could. I graduated debt-free, and my resume had everyone else beat.” Plus, the thrill of opening a brand-new restaurant at 18 was something Wall Street couldn’t match.

Dedication turned him into a top-tier manager within a few short years. Then came the million-dollar question (or something close to it).

His Wall Street dreams were calling, promising a fatter paycheck. But McDonald’s had its own ace: a supervisor position overseeing five restaurants, company car included, and a raise that beat those entry-level finance jobs.

paul hendel working at mcdonalds in 1986
Credit: McDonald’s

Dad’s Wisdom, Unexpected Dreams

Hendel’s dad became his unlikely career guide that night.

“Do you love your job?” his dad asked. “Are you good at it?”

Those questions echoed louder than any doubts. Hendel loved what he did, and he excelled at it. That’s when he realized a paycheck wasn’t everything.

The chance to go from manager to owner/operator, to truly build his own business within the McDonald’s universe, sealed the deal.

From his start in Brooklyn in 1990, the golden arches have taken Hendel places he never expected – fast-paced city life, a team he built and leads, and let’s be real, the kind of success that puts those Wall Street dreams to shame.

Still Flippin’ it at 66

Hendel works five days a week, but don’t call it work.

Checking in with his people, stopping by a new construction site – it’s what keeps him feeling alive.

After all these years, his go-to meal? An iconic quarter pounder with cheese.

Retirement? Only in the loosest sense.

He’s built a family legacy within the McDonald’s world – his son and daughter run their own franchises now. Hendel sees himself ‘phasing out’ rather than packing up.

More time for the golf course, his boat, his grandkids…but you’ll still catch him in the restaurants, the man who went from flipping burgers to owning a Big Apple empire.

Jill Caren is an international SEO consultant and founder of 2Dogs Media. She is also a trainer, journalist, and speaker who helps brands increase their organic search visibility, traffic, and conversions. She is also the co-founder of Blue Collar Brain, a resource for those looking to enter a trade career.

She has been featured on MSN, Wealth of Geeks, Hubspot, SEO Powersuite, and other publications for her work as an SEO and advocate for skilled trades.

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