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The Early Buzz on McDonald’s New Chicago HQ, a Modern Restaurant With Global Fare

The Golden Arches is trying really hard

McDonald’s West Loop headquarters
Barry Brecheisen
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

McDonald’s made global headlines last month when it opened its new ground-floor restaurant inside its yet-to-open new corporate headquarters in Chicago’s West Loop. The restaurant features a new layout and design, a rotating menu of items previous unavailable in the U.S. from McDonald’s around the world, and touchscreen ordering kiosks. The restaurant actually ran out of international items on opening day at the southwest corner of Randolph and Carpenter streets. McDonald’s officials want to appeal to younger customers and wow Chicagoans on Randolph Row, where some of the city’s best restaurants reside. Here are some early observations.

The design: The 6,000-square-foot space represents what marketers call “McDonald’s Experience of the Future.” That’s what they’re calling the design template for future McDonald’s, as the company attempts to modernize. The Sun-Times asked architect critic Lee Bey for his thoughts on the project. Bey didn’t share many observations on the restaurant, which takes only a portion of the 774,000-square-foot, nine-story building. He called the building design from Gensler “most un-McDonald’s like.” However, Gensler didn’t design the restaurant. It seemed Bey was disappointed. He wrote that it was “nicely put together, but surprisingly sober, particularly in light of architect Carol Ross Barney’s sun-powered, sleek and absolutely forward-looking design for the new Rock & Roll McDonald’s that will take shape in River North.”

The Reader called the touchscreens “an amusing novelty.” But wished the food was fancier to match the upscale design: “Does McDonald’s brand-new ‘fancy’ restaurant stack up with the best of its neighbors on Randolph Street’s Restaurant Row? That’s a clown question, bro.”

McDonald’s touchscreens.
Barry Brecheisen

The food: McDonald’s successfully generated buzz for this new restaurant. That’s demonstrated by Food & Wine taking the time to write a story about the new international items. Besides the thoughts about how “nobody wanted to be here after dark” 20 years ago in the neighborhood, there are some actual observations about the food. The Italian mozzarella salad from France is “a simple salad, and the chicken is clearly processed, but it tastes good.” Hong Kong’s McSpicy Chicken Filet “was just the right amount of heat to please both heat freaks and phobes.” But not as good as Chick-Fil-A. Canada’s “Mighty Angus Burger” features a solid bun. This McDonald’s features full-time baristas, but its flat whites from Australia didn’t impress as it “appears to lose something in the translation — a flat white, a chai latte and something called an iced chocolate.”

The offerings didn’t impress the Reader: “It takes you right back to nearly every other fast-food joint on earth.” The paper added “In other words, don’t expect a Michelin star here anytime soon. But maybe that’s okay.”

McDonald’s Angus Burger from Canada
Barry Brecheisen

The impact: The Reader avoided snark and wrote: “In a pinch, it’s nice to have an option that doesn’t require a reservation, a long wait, and doesn’t break your bank. And maybe, just maybe, it will convince Au Cheval to adopt a Dollar Menu.” Meanwhile, one West Loop resident wonders if having McDonald’s headquarters will paint a target on her neighborhood. Renee Gonzalez, via Facebook, provided a list of reasons why she’s annoyed including protestors, double-parkers, and smokers loitering around. It’s also dangerous that she “loves their fries too much”: “And in just the first couple days, Nos. 1-3 have already poised a problem, SMH.”

McDonald's West Loop

110 N. Carpenter Street, Chicago, IL Visit Website