St. Stephen – It’s been one year since Gary and Ashley Wager opened their McDonald’s restaurant in St. Stephen, and what a year it’s been. In addition to working with what they call a “green” crew who are new to the fast food industry, they have had to deal with a pandemic. But, they have forged through, and they are now happily celebrating one year in business in Charlotte County, and look forward to many more years in this community.
Both Wager and wife Ashley said the success of the restaurant is due to their staff, and the support they have received from the community.
“It’s been a crazy, busy year, but we’re so grateful for the community and for being here that it’s made it all worth it,” said Ashley.
Opening a new restaurant presents challenges at any time, and Wager said he is thankful to the McDonald’s corporation for being so supportive during COVID-19. Many changes had to be made in order to ensure the safety of both employees and staff, but with everyone working together, the couple feel they have been able to provide a safe workplace for everyone.
“Working with the McDonald’s brand has been an amazing process,” said Wager. “They’re very supportive. They lead the way in terms of protecting the safety of all employees. They’re doing a really great job. It’s helped us in a big way, to operate efficiently and safely in these strange times.”
In addition to spending the last year training staff on restaurant operations, the Wagers have also had to implement a lot of changes in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They have social distancing in place, both for employees and for customers. They have sanitization stations, and they are working towards installing plexiglass dividers between tables in order to be able to increase their seating capacity. Employee wellness checks are done on a daily basis, including temperature checks.
“The list for COVID is very extensive, but as a brand we want to be leaders when it comes to making sure that our guests understand that we take the safety of people to be of the utmost. I think that our employees at this stage feel very good about the response. They feel protected while in here. We constantly touch base with them just to make sure that they feel safe in here, and that they’re happy to be here,” said Wager.
Wager also said they have been able to maintain a good level of staffing, and now they are “ramping back up” to hit their sweet spot, which is ideally 60 employees. He said they are pretty much there now, and they are very happy with the crew they have working for them. Ashley agreed, adding how much they appreciate the staff remaining with them throughout this crazy first year.
“We have a number of employees that have stuck with us through this first year, which was really nice to see,” said Ashley. “We wrote a lot of happy first year cards. For one year, you get a pin and a card. We did a lot of those for the first year, which was really nice to see. Obviously there’s been some turnover, but we’ve kept a lot of the staff that started with us from the beginning. It’s great.”
Ashley couldn’t say enough about the support the restaurant has received from the community, with the response being “unbelievable”, much more than they ever anticipated. She said they are still working with a fairly “green” crew, and they are doing everything they can in order to improve each and every day.
“The community’s been very patient,” said Ashley. “I remember a year ago, on our opening day, one of the busiest days that I’ve ever been involved in in McDonald’s. We had to shut down our drive-thru. We had people lined up out the door down to the gas station, waiting to order. Then we had people lined up inside waiting for their orders to eat.”
“A lot of mistakes were made, but at the same time, everybody was patient and understanding, and excited,” said Wager. “They kept coming back. As we head into year two, I would hope that their expectations are even bigger. We’ve got to continue to live up to that. As we get better, expectations should improve. We should get better, and that’s how it should cycle going forward.”
Both Wager and Ashley said they couldn’t be more grateful to the community for all of the support they have received throughout their first year in business. Community is extremely important to the couple, and they are always looking for ways to support St. Stephen and the whole of Charlotte County. They would have liked to have had a celebration for the community, but as gatherings aren’t allowed due to COVID-19, they decided to do something different, and made a donation to the Volunteer Centre of Charlotte County.
“Usually we would do something different along with a contribution to the community,” said Ashley. “But, where we can’t have a gathering, we thought that it would be a good time to make a contribution to the food bank, where COVID hit people really hard with jobs. We felt that they would be an organization that could really use the funds. We made a $2,500 donation to them in celebration of our first anniversary.”
Wager added, “Part of our philosophy of running a business is being involved in the community, and making those connections, whether it’s sponsoring local sports teams or whatever. It’s just what do you do right now? It’s sort of a confusing time. So, making that connection to the food bank is something that makes a heck of a lot of sense right now, and it’s something that we’re going to continue to do in the future.”
So, what is in the future for McDonald’s in St. Stephen? Wager said they want to “step up the level of service” so they can be even faster, more accurate, and friendlier, to take their service to the next level. He said they are not without their challenges, and they plan to work even harder to provide the level of service people have come to expect, and exceed that level.
“It’s year two,” said Wager. “So, we want to step up our level of service to be faster, to be more accurate and more friendly, just to take our service level to the next level, and continue to get involved in the community and continue to support things in the community. Just really work to get better as a restaurant. We’ve got tons of plans, and tons of metrics to look at, and a lot of different ways that we want to improve things. It’s just a matter of hiring the right people, improving the training systems, and running things even better.”
Both Wager and Ashley said they wouldn’t have seen the level of success they have had in their first year if it were not for the community, as well as their crew and management team. They want to thank everyone who has supported them in this endeavor, and they look forward to working with the community for many years to come.
“It’s been an interesting year for them, and one that is quite abnormal with changes happening sometimes hourly with COVID, sometimes daily. We couldn’t have done it without the community support, and we definitely couldn’t have done it without our amazing crew and management team,” said Ashley.
“If people want to reach out, we’re happy to sit down and talk to anybody who’s looking for support with anything in the community,” said Wager. “We’re looking to build those connections, which will help us as we go forward, broaden our reach in the community.”