By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Local McDonald's magnate Herb Washington loves to "wow" his customers.
That's just one reason for his decision to build a new, $1 million McDonald's restaurant at 609 E. Midlothian Boulevard, replacing an older eatery about a half-block away on the same street.
"It gives employees a boost. It gives the community a boost," said Washington at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new restaurant Friday. "And you should see how much it means to the customers. I love to hear them walk in and say: 'Oh wow!'"
Operates 21 restaurants
Washington, president of Boardman-based H.L.W. Fast Track Inc., said the Midlothian store is the third new local restaurant the company has opened in 10 months and one of 21 it operates in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.
The newest site, at the corner of Midlothian and South Avenue, straddles the border between Youngstown and Boardman, and the ribbon-cutting celebrated the governmental cooperation that allowed the restaurant to be built.
Mayor George McKelvey, one of several city and township officials on hand, credited Washington for having the "leadership and charm" to get leaders from the neighboring communities to work together.
Under the agreement, Boardman trustee Thomas Costello explained, employees' income tax revenue will go to the city, and the city and township will split the property tax revenue. Police and fire protection will be provided by city and township under a mutual aid agreement.
H.L.W. also opened a new eatery on the corner of Raccoon Road and New Road in Austintown in October, replacing an older store on Kirk Road; in December the company opened a new restaurant in the Pilot Travel Center at 1150 N. Canfield-Niles Road, replacing an older store farther south on the same street.
Remodeling the restaurants would likely have been more costly than building new, Washington said, because so many changes were needed, including improvements in kitchen design, seating, decor and parking.
All three new eateries feature white brick exteriors with the traditional McDonald's red and gold accents. McDonald's franchisees across Northeastern Ohio agreed to use white instead of the red or brown brick exteriors that were in use 20 years ago, and Washington said he prefers the new look.
"I think the red and white is the way to go. It's bright, clean, attractive, fresh," he said. "It says something new is going on."
Joe Pratt, operations director, said the Midlothian restaurant has 60 full- and part-time employees. "And we're always looking for more," he said.
Formerly a world-class sprinter and Major League Baseball player with the Oakland A's in Oakland, Calif., Washington became a McDonald's franchise-holder a few years later in Rochester, N.Y., where he was a leader in the black business community.
In 1998 he sold his six Rochester-area restaurants and moved to Youngstown when he saw the opportunity to buy 19 McDonald's stores from Covelli Enterprises of Warren.
Washington lives in Boardman with his wife, Gisele, and their two children -- Terrelle, a pupil at Ursuline High School, and Arielle, a pupil at Boardman Middle School.
A hands-on owner, Washington said he visits all of his restaurants regularly and talks to everyone, from the customers at the counter to the employees at the grills and fryers.
"I need to see for myself what's going on in the restaurants. I visited four stores yesterday," he said. "You ask my employees, they'll tell you. Mr. Washington talks to everybody."