McDonald’s on Monday revealed its brand-new Chicago headquarters, returning to the city where the corporation was originally located before it moved to the suburbs for nearly five decades.
“We’ve always been a Chicago brand,” CEO Steve Easterbrook said outside of the new entrance to Hamburger University, where the burger giant trains its managers and franchisees.
But to the company, the move is more than a simple address. It’s part of a shift in the company’s direction, a symbol of what executives believe will be a newer, better McDonald’s.
It follows the chain’s move to serve breakfast items all day, something it long resisted despite repeated requests from customers. More recently, the chain started serving quarter-pound burgers made to order using fresh beef after decades of using frozen patties.
McDonald’s has also made improvements to other menu items, such as the Egg McMuffin and its Chicken McNuggets, and the company is adding kiosks at the majority of its U.S. restaurants by the end of 2019.
“This gets us closer to our customers, our competitors and trends in society where we want to compete and succeed,” Easterbrook said. He called the new headquarters “symbolic of our journey to transform our brand and become more closely connected with our customers.”
McDonald’s was headquartered in the city of Chicago from 1955 through 1971, when it moved to Oak Brook, Ill., about 20 miles away from Chicago’s downtown. Easterbrook gave a nod to Oak Brook, noting that it was the first place he went to after first coming to the U.S. in 1997. “We have fond memories of Oak Brook,” he said.
But with corporations more eager to court younger, professional workers, some companies have been moving back into central cities.
For McDonald’s, locating in Chicago’s hot West Loop neighborhood could help it attract those workers while building the chain’s cachet with young adult consumers.
It also helps them get closer to the hot urban restaurants where many dining trends emerge.
“We expect this will have a demonstrable impact on our customers,” said Chris Kempczinski, president of McDonald’s USA.
Inside, the nine-story, 490,000-square-foot headquarters is a mix of symbols of the chain’s history, with its new direction. Much of the design incorporates symbolic elements of what the chain does. There is a wall in Hamburger University with representatives of some of the chain’s old ads, along with various penny presses where some of those ads can be pressed on a penny.
The company’s work cafe is designed to represent the colorful tunnels of a McDonald’s PlayPlace, and it has a McCafe designed like an old, red-roofed McDonald’s. But it also has a courtyard and a “tech bar” where employees can get technology help.
The workspaces inside are designed to give the 2,000 employees at the headquarters the “flexibility” to find a work environment that fits their needs for the day.
There are “huddle rooms,” communal tables, private phone rooms, personal lockers and communal tables. There is also a central staircase designed to prompt “pass-by interactions.” And there are conversations throughout.
The elevators in the building are labeled with letters A through M, with one exception: There is no I, perhaps a nod to the phrase “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team.’”