Donald Bailey was number 114 on the promotion list of several hundred officers who wanted to be sergeant at the Los Angeles Police Department. After 14 years on the force, he figured he was about due.
But it didn't happen. "I was number 114, and they stopped at 98," he recalls. "I didn't get it."
The event caused mid-life introspection. Bailey re-evaluated his goals, and three years later he opened a McDonald's franchise.
Bailey, who had worked in the warrants section, said he began to realize the promotion may not have been a goal he really wanted. "For years, promotion sounded great. Then I asked myself, 'Do I really want to be promoted and sit there behind the desk? Is that what I'm working toward?' "
The restaurant became his new goal. He spent the next two years working 90 hours a week. By day, he served arrest warrants and took prisoners to jail. At night and on weekends, he wore a McDonald's uniform, flipped hamburgers and learned how things worked.
In July, 1986, Bailey left the department after 17 years, just three years before he could retire. He and his wife, Andrea, opened their McDonald's at what is now the Wells Fargo Center on Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles.
Bailey, now 43, runs a restaurant far from the typical roadside McDonald's. There are fresh flowers on the tables and a harpist who plays at lunch a few times a week. You can phone ahead for reservations, have a phone at your table or have lunch sent up to offices in the building.
"A lot of the customers are my age. I think that helps me understand what they want," Bailey said. "My customers are used to being served, and they're used to being in fancy places, so I have to offer a lot more than good food to bring them in."
For the Baileys, the hours are long and managing a staff of 75 workers can be difficult. But Donald Bailey said owning a restaurant--the couple managed to invest $200,000 and financed $300,000 more--has made him much more aware of a need to "enjoy my life and see rewards.
"Here I can see results of my work," he said. "Being a police officer was not only thankless, I couldn't see the results. At McDonald's, you've got happy folks who are pleased with good service."