Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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January 30, 2013

Ashland McDonald’s celebrates 50 years

ASHLAND — The opening of a new McDonald’s restaurant in 2013 may not generate the kind of buzz that has traffic lined up for blocks.

But it was a much different story in 1963. Just ask Audrey Ryerson.

Ryerson was married to one of the original owners of the Winchester Avenue McDonald’s, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month. She was there when the restaurant — Ashland’s first chain fast-food eatery — opened its doors on Jan. 3, 1963.

“The line was so long. They were so far down the street,” she said. “I pulled into the lot and they told me I had to leave because they needed my space.”

Ryerson also recalled the opening-day demand for burgers creating a pickle shortage, so she was dispatched to a local grocery store to buy more.

“I had an 8-month-old baby in the seat of the shopping cart. The rest of it was full of pickles,” she recalled. “It drew a lot of attention.”

Ryerson, 76, who now lives in Monroe, Mich., returned to the Winchester Avenue McDonald’s Wednesday with her youngest daughter, Jackie Wolf, to celebrate its anniversary. She said it was the first time she’d been there in some time and she was pleased to see it still doing well.

“It’s changed a lot, but it’s still good,” she said.

Ryerson was a 26-year-old mother of four when her family opened the restaurant. She was married to Jim Wolf, who, along with his father, Earnest, applied for a franchise with the burgeoning food-service company in 1962. The Ashland McDonald’s was the sixth in Kentucky and the 491st overall.

Earnest Wolf and his wife, Mattie, had discovered McDonald’s a few years earlier. The couple, who lived in Fairlawn, N.J., enjoyed taking their seven children there for Sunday dinner.

McDonald’s was looking for investors when the Wolfs submitted their franchise application, and it was approved right away. They were given the choices of three cities in which they could open an eatery: Camden, N.J., Joplin, Mo., and Ashland. Earnest and Jim Wolf visited all three cities and agreed on Ashland.

Earnest Wolf had sold his scrap business, but still wasn’t able to meet McDonald’s $35,000 start-up fee. He relied on his other business, which processed and froze eggs in 30-pound cans and sold them to restaurants, to provide the balance of the franchise money, as well as the funds to relocate his family.

Ryerson said she lived in Ashland for 14 years and thoroughly enjoyed the time she spent here.

“The people were so friendly,” she said.

While the location of the Winchester Avenue McDonald’s is the same as the original, the building isn’t. The original building was remodeled twice before being razed and rebuilt a few years ago.

Today, the Wolf organization, which is headed by Jim Wolf’s brother, Tom, has 14 McDonald’s in Boyd and Greenup counties in Kentucky and Cabell and Wayne counties in West Virginia. Tom Wolf, who was in high school when the Winchester Avenue store opened, bought into the restaurant in 1974, opened his first McDonald’s, the Russell store, in 1979, and bought the Huntington locations from his brother the following year. Jim Wolf died in 1990.

The restaurants provide roughly 750 jobs in the region and have launched the careers of thousands. Wolf and his wife, Sherry, both said they’re approached by former McDonald’s employees virtually every time they go out in public. The vast majority of them tell them they’re thankful to McDonald’s for providing them with entry points into the work force, they said.

Tom Wolf, 66, said he had originally planned to retire at 55. But, when he reached that age, he kept finding “one more thing” that needed done. That’s still the case today, he said, meaning retirement will still have to wait a few years.

Wolf said one of those “things” on his agenda was a rebuild of the Russell McDonald’s. Demolition of the current building is scheduled to begin next month, he said. The restaurant that will replace it “will be a very special store,” he said

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or

(606) 326-2654.

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