MILWAUKEE -- At the McDonald's near 76th and Good Hope, there's a lot on the menu. What's not is the secret ingredient -- and we're not talking about the special sauce. We're talking about the man who owns and operates the franchise store -- Robert Pyles.
Pyles is an Alabama native who opened his first McDonald's in Milwaukee 19 years ago. Today, he operates 16 McDonald's restaurants in Milwaukee. He’s the only African-American McDonald's franchise owner in Wisconsin. But there’s more. He’s also a minister at Abundant Faith Church of Integrity on Good Hope Road.
FOX6 News caught up with Pyles at the McDonald's headquarters on Milwaukee’s northwest side. We asked him how he keeps it all balanced.
"Halftime!" Pyles said.
What does that mean?
"When you deal with tragedies, in a basketball game, they got a halftime and you go in the locker room and you really begin to look at what happened in the first half. Make your changes," Pyles said.
Pyles said he practices that message everyday. It starts when he wakes up at 3:30 a.m. and hits the gym inside the McDonald's headquarters. It’s open to any McDonald's employee who wants to attend. Pyles said people do show up!
From there, it’s time to get down to work in what Pyles calls "the war room." That is a place where the strategy is laid out for the day-to-day operations required to run 16 stores.
"I don’t separate. I don’t wear no minister hat. I don’t wear a pastor’s hat. It’s the same thought. I try to run everything succinctly because I love what I’m doing. I don’t try to go out of the zone, so when people say the ministry, McDonald's and all that -- it’s all one hat." Pyles said.
Pyles is one of nine children raised by a single mother in a small town outside of Anniston, Alabama. He practiced putting on that “one hat” at an early age.
"My older brother passed away at 18, so I had to grow up at a young age. Always working, always providing. Feel like I had to be the man of the house," Pyles said.
After high school, Pyles went into the Air Force where he served for 15 years, living in Korea, North Dakota and Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was there that he started working at McDonald's part-time at night and on weekends to make some extra cash.
One of his mentors, Don Thompson, suggested he check out some restaurants in Milwaukee – a city Pyles knew nothing about.
"All I knew was Laverne and Shirley," Pyles said.
Pyles moved to Milwaukee with his wife Betty and their three children and never looked back.
"I love Milwaukee. I get upset. I love Milwaukee. You gotta go where you can flourish, you know? Milwaukee has been great," Pyles said.
On days where everything doesn’t go as planned, Pyles said he doesn’t dwell on it.
"One thing I learned a long time ago -- if I can’t change it, I can’t change it. If I can’t do something about it, if it’s not in my wheelhouse, or whatever, it’s OK," Pyles said. "Once you stress out and get upset, you can’t think."
Pyles also has a little reminder of how things used to be. There’s a framed picture that hangs in the room next to his office. It’s of a food stamp, and underneath reads "Never Forgotten." It’s a constant reminder of his childhood when there wasn’t a lot to go around. Despite that, he enjoys everyday and always has. Especially now. He says he is having the time of his life.
In case you're wondering -- does Pyles eat the food at McDonald's? When asked, he responded with an enthusiastic "yes!" He said he has his favorites, but the Filet-O-Fish probably tops them all.