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Futuristic Chicago McDonald’s Flagship Opens on Thursday in River North

Trees were airdropped into the roof of the former Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s

Look at the lovely trees inside the new McDonald’s in Chicago.
Ashok Selvam
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.

The future is here for McDonald’s as the fast-food giant today in Chicago unveiled a shiny new 19,000-square-foot restaurant enclosed by 27-foot windows and trees popping out from the roof. The restaurant, in the city’s River North neighborhood, replaces the Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s. It opens on Thursday morning at 600 N. Clark Street.

The old restaurant continued to draw school groups and tourists even until its December shutter. Despite plenty of customers, McDonald’s wanted to try a new design as the company continues to rebrand to youngsters.

Like the previous location, this one will stay open 24 hours a day. It’s part of the McDonald’s initiative to modernize the company’s 14,000 U.S. restaurants by 2020 (5,000 have already been modernized). America’s already seen glimpses with touchscreen ordering, table service, and food delivery added at restaurants. Chicagoans got a closer look earlier this summer when the company unveiled its restaurant with global menus inside the ground-floor of its new West Loop headquarters. Flatscreen menus, WiFi with a 100mb upload/download speed (that’s fast, according to McDonald’s brass), and plenty of plugs to charge mobile devices are included. There’s also a separate coffee counter with pastries for those who just need caffeine.

The second floor isn’t accessible to customers, but there’s a mini arboretum in the middle of the restaurant above the gauntlet of touchscreens. Staff will light those trees during the winter holiday season. McDonald’s video footage showed crews airdropping the trees from the roof.

“It kind of reminds me that McDonald’s is very young and very creative,” said franchise owner/operator Nick Karavites, who also runs the West Loop location. “It’s forward thinking and it’s a growth company.”

The Golden Arches is reloading.
Ashok Selvam

The new location features a corridor of touchscreen kiosks in the middle of the restaurant. Staff hovers around to help in case of an electronic malfunction. Customers can also head to the counter and order food like at a traditional fast-food restaurant. There’s no menu additions, so forget about special perks like McRibs available every day. This location will still cater to school groups from out of town, but the design is meant to make the restaurant more compelling to customers who may have an outdated perception of the company.

McDonald’s plans to open seven new restaurants in Chicago over the next two years. The company is in the middle of modernizing the city’s 93 locations. President & CEO Steve Easterbrook made a point to single out Chicago as the company’s home and referenced founder Ray Kroc.

The new River North restaurant is designed by architect Carol Ross Barney with a focus on community and sustainability. Solar energy powers parts of the restaurant and they’ve installed an energy-efficient HVAC system. The overhead solar arrays power about 60 percent of the restaurant, Barney said. At this McDonald’s, the restaurant’s iconic french fries are cooked in fryers that use less oil. From design to the end of construction it took teams 13 months.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s location was a beloved restaurant that dates back to 1983. Local musician Wesley Willis, who wrote a song about the restaurant, passed away 15 years ago; rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t hold the same sway over crowds more than three decades later. So McDonald’s has flipped the page. Easterbrook said it’s hard to pick a favorite location out of the company’s 37,000 locations across the globe, but this Chicago location is the company’s flagship on an iconic site that “absolutely represents the very best of what we stand for.”

Come back on Thursday for an more in-depth look inside the restaurant.