(July 2017) – When George Saliba arrived in the United States in 1979 at age 21 from his native Beirut, Lebanon, he didn’t even speak English. But since that time he has made good on his desire to own his own business and take full advantage of the opportunity that this country offers.
Today at age 59, he not only owns his own business, he owns seven of them – seven McDonald’s franchises located throughout Kentuckiana. And he also serves as president of the McDonald’s Kentuckiana Cooperative – a group of franchise owners representing more than 100 McDonald’s restaurants in the Louisville region.
Saliba most recently purchased the Madison, Ind., McDonald’s in January from Ron and Mary Chandler. He had already purchased their Hanover, Ind., McDonald’s in April 2016. The two restaurants added to Saliba’s five other McDonald’s locations in Charlestown and Jeffersonville in Indiana, and La Grange, Pendleton and Eminence in Kentucky.
Photo by Don Ward
From left, new Madison and Hanover McDonald’s owner George Saliba poses at the Madison restaurant with manager Matt Dodd.
“I am very blessed,” Saliba said during an interview in late June at the newly purchased Madison McDonald’s. “This is a land of opportunity and the best country on Earth to let people work hard to live the American dream.”
Saliba added, “It has been a pleasure to join this community, and we want the community to love their local McDonald’s, so we have to perform.”
Saliba said of the Chandlers, “Ron and Mary are great friends and very honest business people. I still talk to them and am learning from them about this community.”
The Chandlers operated the Madison McDonald’s for 20 years, but Mary said she has been involved with McDonald’s for 40 years total, working for her father Clayton Hieb, the original owner of the Madison McDonald’s. When her father retired, Mary and Ron took over.
Mary’s brother, Mark Hieb, meanwhile operated the Scottsburg, Ind., McDonald’s for many years. He sold it in June 2016.
Mary said of the decision to sell, “It was just the right time. We struggled with the lack of help, but we enjoyed it and made a lot of friends.”
The Chandlers are enjoying retirement. Ron, 55, likes to play golf, and the couple make frequent trips to Florida. They also enjoy spending time with their grandson.
“We met a lot of good people, and I still visit there, even though we are not owners anymore. We are still part of the community that goes in there to eat and visit with people,” said Mary, 54.
The Chandlers’ daughter, Lisa Hall, still works at the Madison McDonald’s, she said.
Saliba said his business philosophy is derived from his father, who operated a large vineyard in Lebanon when he was growing up. “My father focused on helping his community because he said when your community is strong, then everyone will prosper. And he was a master at building relationships with the people in the community.”
Saliba has taken that advice to heart. And he is proud to be giving back to the communities in which he does business.
In La Grange, Ky., for instance, he holds a monthly “Burger Bash” to raise money for the school system. One night a month for three hours, 10 percent of the proceeds are donated to the schools to purchase computers and equipment.
In Madison, he and Ron Chandler together donated $5,000 to a new children’s playground being developed on Madison’s riverfront. With Saliba’s help, the donation was matched by the Ronald McDonald Foundation in Louisville, he said.
Saliba also likes to give back to the local police and fire departments. And he has great respect for the nation’s military “because without them, I would not be here today.”
Saliba came to America to attend college at the University of Dayton in Ohio and to escape the escalating violence from war in Lebanon. He taught himself English by learning the lyrics to songs on a bunch of 33 RPM records that a friend gave him. He worked hard to overcome the language barrier, and his hard work paid off. He earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration in just four years.
After graduation and several initial jobs, Saliba decided to go to work as a manager trainee for a newly opened McDonald’s restaurant in Beaver Creek, Ohio. Meanwhile, the war in Lebanon continued, and eventually Saliba informed his family that he would be remaining in the United States. A few years later, by 1986, his four siblings and parents joined him to live in Ohio.
By 1989, Saliba had graduated to business consultant with McDonald’s, working as a liaison between restaurant franchise owners. He held that position for six years, but he said what he really wanted was to own his own McDonald’s.
Then he met Paul Groen, who owned several McDonald’s restaurants in the Cincinnati and northern Kentucky region. The two teamed up in 1997 and together they grew the organization from three franchises to 12 by 2011, including those restaurants in Carrollton and Owenton.
When the La Grange and Pendleton restaurants became available, Saliba made his move and bought them, finally realizing his dream. He purchased the La Grange location first, in 2012, and then Pendleton, both from previous owner Martha English of La Grange.
His profits and satisfaction scores were so high that McDonald’s awarded him the new Eminence, Ky., restaurant when it opened two years ago.
Today, Saliba lives in Union, Ky., and spends most days traveling between his seven restaurants. He presides over the monthly meetings of the Kentuckiana Cooperative of McDonald’s franchise owners.
And as a hobby, he tends to his honey bees. He has had bee hives for 40 years. “My grandfather had bees when I was a kid, and when he got older he would have me lift the boxes for him,” Saliba recalled. “So later in life, I decided to have bees. They are a very important part of our agriculture and environment.”
He gives away the honey to family members and friends.
Saliba’s business success has inspired his own family to join him in running the many McDonald’s restaurants. His daughter, Emily Kasselman, is a supervisor. His son, Richard, manages the La Grange restaurant. His son-in-law, David Kasselman, handles the technology for all the locations.
Matt Dodd of Cincinnati has been working for Saliba for 12 years in his various Cincinnati area restaurant ventures, and for the last two years with McDonald’s. He was tapped by Saliba to manage the Madison McDonald’s, which was totally rebuilt in 2014 as the model of what all McDonald’s restaurants will look like in the future.
“The community is really rallying behind us here in Madison,” said Dodd, 29. “It is such a beautiful town, with so much art and culture. The people who live here are really proud of their town, and we want to make them proud of their local McDonald’s, so we are working very hard to make that happen.”
• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: info@RoundAbout.bz.
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