How McDonald's First-Ever Restaurant Was Reborn As A Museum

mcdonalds museum
mcdonalds museum - Michael Gordon/Shutterstock

Located in San Bernadino, California, is a testament to the staying power that is the fast food juggernaut McDonald's. The McDonald's museum is located on the site where the very first McDonald's got its start. Although the company lists Des Plaines, Illinois, as its place of origin, the McDonald's brothers started their journey into the world of fast food on the West Coast before it became a global franchise.

The museum is unofficial, meaning that the corporation has no affiliation to it. Fast food history buffs have businessman Albert Okura to thank. Okura was the owner of the rotisserie chicken chain Juan Pollo, as well as other museums and a town. He decided to purchase the land that the original McDonald's was on in 1998, with plans to make it the headquarters for his growing chicken empire. Okura was a big fan of McDonald's, seeing them as an inspiration for success.

However, some McDonald's customers misunderstood his intentions with buying the land and began sending him mementos from McDonald's storied past. Okura changed direction and decided to open a museum dedicated to McDonald's instead. While Okura was a fan of the corporation, the same can't be said in return. According to SF Gate, McDonald's is aware of the museum's operations. Meanwhile, Atlas Obscura reported that McDonald's took legal action against the museum, although nothing appears to have come from the lawsuit.

Read more: The Ultimate American Fast Food Restaurants Ranked

Behind The First Restaurant

original site for mcdonald's
original site for mcdonald's - Camerique/Getty Images

The fact that McDonald's claims its Des Plaines location as its original is a bit of revisionist history. Brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald opened their first restaurant, McDonald's Barbecue, at the California location in 1940. The brothers had a string of bad investments, including a failed movie theater that didn't take off, before realizing there was money to be made in the food industry. After securing a bank loan, the brothers would take their first journey into success, recognizing changing patterns when it came to diners' eating habits. Customers wanted quick and easy meals they could take on the go, and the McDonald's hamburger ended up being a rousing success.

In many ways, the McDonald brothers created one of the earlier models of a fast food restaurant. However, the restaurant wouldn't grow into the global franchise that it is today until the McDonald's brothers partnered with Ray Kroc. Kroc wanted to scale the business into a bigger model and ultimately bought the company from the McDonald brothers. Eventually, the original McDonald's restaurant ended up shutting down despite the success of the brand overall. It may have been completely forgotten if Albert Okura hadn't swooped in with his museum idea.

McDonald's Museum

mcdonald's sign
mcdonald's sign - Patty_c/Getty Images

Visitors to the museum can explore every era from McDonald's long-storied history. The museum is a combination of artifacts from over the decades. For instance, there's an assortment of Happy Meal toys, including popular tie-ins, like from "Finding Nemo." The exterior of the museum is decorated with familiar McDonald's mascots like Grimace and the Hamburglar. The museum also has the sign from the original restaurant.

The museum hasn't downplayed Ray Kroc's contribution to McDonald's legacy. Clothing worn from the biopic "The Founder," which heavily explored this story, is on display as well. The museum is free to visitors and runs mostly on donations from the public. However, the museum may be in a bit of a transition. Its owner and driving force, Albert Okura, passed away in early 2023 at the age of 71. Despite his death, the museum still appears to be operational based on reviews on Trip Advisor.

This actually wasn't the first McDonald's museum. McDonald's had an official museum that opened in Illinois in 1985. However, the company ultimately chose to close the location for good after issues with flooding. The unofficial museum remains a point of interest for McDonald's superfans.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.