By Katie Martin, Savannah Morning News
Nina Tracy Gompels’ journey from McDonald’s counter worker as a teenager to second generation franchise owner wasn’t an easy stroll under the golden arches. There’s been quite a bit of dumpster diving, scrubbing tables, biscuit making and late nights along the way.
On Wednesday, Gompels — clad in her original 1976 McDonald’s dress uniform — spoke about her journey, community and her dedicated employees during the quarterly Business in Savannah Luncheon at the Savannah Morning News.
Gompels credits her parents for her creativeness and willingness to take on new challenges, but when her father approached her with the idea of passing his locations on to her — after she had been working for the Georgia Southern alumni foundation and commercial insurance — she admits she wasn’t sure whether McDonald’s ownership was the right fit.
“It was a big change… Through the encouragement of my husband, Mark, and my family, I began my career back at McDonald’s, and with that I had to get back to the basics,” she said, adding that McDonald’s expects owners to understand the business from the toilet brush to running shifts.
“… I didn’t know how to make biscuits, I didn’t know how to run a shift, and I had never been part of the operations from a standpoint of inventory control and labor scheduling and all the different components that go into the business. So a lot had changed since I worked the Danish steamer and the front counter,” she said.
During the next few months Gompels traveled daily to Bluffton to secure those foundations of biscuit making, inventory and operations before taking on hundreds of employees in Savannah and being approved as an owner/operator and opening her first restaurant in 2001 on DeRenne Avenue.
Now, Gompels owns six area locations and spends time giving back to the community through the Ronald McDonald House Charities, local organizations including the Rotary Club of Savannah and the Savannah Economic Development Authority.
Her restaurants also participate in Buy One, Give One Happy Meal Tuesdays. When a customer purchases a Happy Meal, a voucher is donated to local food banks for children in need. Since the program’s start in April more than 20,000 meals have been donated.
Gompels also takes her hands-on approach on the road. Having served on the regional McDonald’s purchasing committee, she’s been able to see everything from fries to McNuggets from start to finish.
“I’ve gone from the fields to the fryers. I’ve gone out to Washington to visit our potato farmers and got on tractors, dug them up, taken them to the processing plant and them followed them back to McDonald’s to eat them,” she said.
Her work ethic and enthusiasm also serve as a point of inspiration for employees such as Jackie Jones, a manager at the McDonald’s at the corner of Waters Avenue and Eisenhower Drive, who has been with the company for more than 20 years.
She said working for Gompels has influenced her choice to stay for so long.
“She’s such a people person. She’s willing to listen to anything that you have to say. She’s approachable at any time for anything,” Jones said.
“I can’t even describe what type of person she is. There are just so many words I could use.”
Gompels said the work can be grinding at the end of the day, but it’s about motivating and inspiring her many employees such as Jones.
“If I work with my people side-by-side, then it helps motivate and inspire them, and they see that I’m going to do anything they’re going to do. It makes it all work out much easier,” Gompels said.
“I just love them all.”