Sure, McDonald’s has a dollar menu. But, some people can’t even afford that. Holidays can be especially rough for those less fortunate. One Phoenix McDonald’s restaurant is lending a helping hand again this year.
(Courtesy of Glen Creno – Arizona Republic)
Julian Nabozny figures he has caught some breaks in life, which is one reason he likes to help people who haven’t done as well.
Nabozny, gearing up to host another of his free Thanksgiving Day breakfasts this year, says he’s had three close calls with death that reinforced his belief that people who are fortunate in life should help those who aren’t.
“God saved my life three times,” he said. “And I feel that I could have been in heaven right now. Giving back is part of my nature because it’s God’s will.”
// Nabozny, 58, owns five McDonald’s restaurants in the Valley. This will be the 17th year he hosts the holiday food-fest that has grown into a neighborhood event in the area around the restaurant at Central and Southern avenues in Phoenix.
Cooks will hit the kitchen at 3 a.m. to crank out thousands of servings of pancakes Thursday. Milk, juice and cookies will also be served. Nabozny foots the bill for the McDonald’s portion of the event, about $9,000 to $10,000 in expenses. That doesn’t include lost sales from the restaurant being closed a half-day, which is another $4,500 or so. He estimates that 4,000 breakfasts will be served to people who got invitations that were distributed via schools and houses of worship.
Other businesses and entertainers have gotten into the act, giving away turkeys and providing music on a stage. The restaurant’s parking lot will be filled with 150 tables and 600 chairs. There’s typically a big line winding along Central to the restaurant, which is decked out with a big American flag made of tiles on the outside. Nabozny said that for some, it’s the only meal they will have on Thanksgiving and the only way that some have of celebrating the holiday.
“It’s hard for me to say ‘no’ when people ask me for help,” he said recently, sitting at a table in the Playland of the south Phoenix restaurant. “And I know they’re being genuine and they’re being sincere. I try to find ways to help.”
Nabozny followed a twisting path to wind up owning five McDonald’s in Phoenix. His family immigrated to Chicago from Argentina when he was 13 and he went to high school and college in Illinois. He became a high-school teacher in the Chicago area, he said, mainly so he could coach soccer.
“That was my dream, to be a coach,” he said. “Soccer was my life.”
But as much as he loved coaching, he realized that his salary of about $9,000 a year didn’t cut it. He was on the lookout for other opportunities and spotted one in a McDonald’s saying the company was looking for prospective Hispanic owners.
He didn’t think he had a shot – not much money, no business experience – but the company valued his education, the fact he is bilingual, and his ability to work with people, especially young people who would make up the bulk of his employees. They also told him that maybe one of 10 applicants actually becomes an owner because of the difficult, unpaid training, burger flipping and bathroom cleaning.
“I said: ‘When can I start? Can I start tomorrow?’ ” he said.
He held out for a store in his home community of Humboldt Park, then added one in nearby Lincoln Park. But he said the heavy tax load in Chicago finally convinced him to look elsewhere, and he settled on the Valley. He has five stores now and is thinking expansion to be prepared when the economy recovers.
“When I came to Phoenix, I had three stores,” he said. “I swapped two for three. What I paid for one store in real-estate taxes in Chicago I could pay for all three here. It was outrageous. Every time I got my tax bill, I would say, how am I going to pay for this?”
Nabozny said he’s never before talked about the times he believes his life almost ended. Two involved water – a rip current in Mexico and a raft crash in Wisconsin. The third involved a youth soccer game in the Chicago area when Nabozny, a goalie, was kicked in the head while holding the ball and kneeling in the penalty area where contact isn’t allowed. The incident became a landmark legal case when his father sued the other player successfully.
He figures he beat the odds to be where he is now. He thinks his oldest daughter might be ready to get into the burger business – if she’s willing to pay the dues working in the kitchen, cleaning bathrooms, doing whatever it takes to keep the place running.
It’s paid off for him.
“I love the fact that I am in a position in life now that I can give back to my community, whoever they are, Black, White, Hispanic, Indian,” he said.
“I’m glad I can pay back the Lord for what he did. He saved me so many times.”