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McDonald’s boosts its area presence

Craig Welburn Jr. stands in front of his new McDonald’s in Ladysmith, one of eight that he owns. / Photo by Griffin Moores

CRAIG WELBURN JR. has seen plenty of changes in McDonald’s during the 30 years that his family has owned some of its restaurants.

His new Ladysmith location, which celebrates its grand opening today, boasts the fast-food chain’s latest design with the sleek yellow “eyebrow” over the McDonald’s sign on the front of the brick-and-stone building.

It also has many of the chain’s newest features, such as numerous outlets for customers’ mobile devices and, coming around March, a charging station for electric cars in the parking lot.

“Who would have thought 10 years ago that we’d be driving electric cars?” Welburn said. “It’s one of the things we requested for this location. We’re going green at McDonald’s. I would like to put one at my [seven] other locations.”

Welburn, who lives in Manassas, will be on hand today for the Ladysmith restaurant’s grand-opening celebration. It will kick off with a ribbon cutting at 11:30 a.m. that will include county officials. There will be a Ronald McDonald show at noon, and Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive at 4 p.m. and stay until 6 p.m.

Radio station 96.9 The Rock also will be there, and prizes—including a Google tablet and LeapFrog tablet—will be given away throughout the day.

The new McDonald’s opened Oct. 28 immediately adjacent to Interstate 95 at the 110 interchange and across State Route 639 from Exxon. It is open 24 hours a day, has a staff of 75 to 80, and seats 80 people at a variety of different types of tables.

While there are no TVs and no PlayPlace in the restaurant, it does have three computer stations loaded with more than 100 games. They’re mainly there to entertain children, but appeal to adults as well.

“You really find a lot of families playing these,” Welburn said.

The new restaurant also has two lanes outside to help speed up orders at the drive-thru window—which accounts for 65 percent of the location’s business. There’s a digital screen above the counter so customers inside can see when their order is ready. And the cup lid dispensers have a hygienic twist: they dole out only one at a time.

Tucked in an office behind the restaurant counter is a computerized energy management system that does such things as turn off the LED lights in the refrigerated storage room when no one is in it. Eventually it will be able to call Welburn and the store manager to alert them if there’s a potential problem with any of the store’s equipment.

One of three McDonald’s in Caroline County, the Ladysmith location draws travelers who exit Interstate 95 to grab a cup of coffee or Big Mac, as well as people from the surrounding area who have welcomed an additional option for a place to gather and eat, Welburn said.

He and his wife, in turn, support the community. They not only donated $500 each to Caroline County Emergency Services and the Caroline YMCA during the groundbreaking ceremony last July, but are letting the county’s schools hold spirit nights there.

“It’s our way of giving back,” Welburn said.

So far, the county’s two elementary schools and the high school have held them and received a portion of that night’s sales—more than $3,000 each. A spirit night for the middle school is in the works.

The restaurant also has artwork by Caroline students taped to its windows, and one wall is adorned with a picture of Secretariat, the Triple Crown winner who was born just down the road in Doswell.

“We know how important Secretariat is to the community and the county,” said Welburn, whose son is a fan of the 2010 movie about the chestnut thoroughbred.

While Welburn said that he doesn’t plan to open another McDonald’s any time soon, he will be renovating or rebuilding some of his other restaurants. The first on the list is the location on Mine Road and U.S. 1 in the Four-Mile Fork area.

“We’ll possibly rebuild it within the next year,” he said.

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407