Bob and Tom Hutchison, brothers and owner-operators of 13 McDonald's restaurants in Eastern Kentucky, recently announced that they have sold their franchise to Faris Enterprises of Clinton, Tennessee. Tom described the joint decision of the two brothers, stating, ““The time has come to turn over the spatula to the next opportunity.”
The Hutchison brothers’ journey led them from Ohio to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Along the way they made numerous contributions to the area through their restaurants, and have given back to the communities in which they have engrained their lives.
The two youngest of five brothers, Bob and Tom were raised by parents who instilled values and beliefs in them to which they credit their successes in life.
“Our Dad had a full ride of a career,” said Tom. “He had been in the restaurant business and was with McDonald's. He worked for this group of investors. He pretty much retired, but when he went to McDonald's they knew that we were going to use our father’s brain and brawn. The gentleman who was running McDonald's in that division at the time knew our work ethic. He’s the one that kept pushing us to come to Kentucky.
“At that time I was 22, Bob was 25,” Tom continued. “The youngest franchisees signed on. That was unheard of. But the guy knew our work ethic from our parents. Our father grew up in an orphanage from the age of five until he got out until he got out to marry our mother. A single mother raised our mother after the age of 12. Her father had an early death. So both of our parents were very goal-oriented, stern, family-based and those values were how we were raised.”
Tom described the duo as being business partners even as young children cutting grass, shoveling driveways in the Ohio winters and washing and waxing cars. They began working from a very young age. From the age of 9 to 14, Bob delivered newspapers. At the age of 14, both brothers entered the restaurant business with the assistance of their father.
“We knew the restaurant business,” stated Tom. “We started at 14 years old. We did management and I got into marketing. Bob did some schooling. The fact is that we knew how to run a restaurant and that it was about people — powering our people with pride. That is what we made as a foundation for building our company.”
Getting started in Eastern Kentucky
Making the choice to settle in Eastern Kentucky and open a McDonald's restaurant in a community like Paintsville in the 1970s and 1980s did not come without some reservations and a few obstacles along the way.
“We had several places to go to,” described Bob. “Our dad had just retired working with McDonald's — another operator. Then one of his cohorts tried to get him involved with the restaurants and there was no way that we could do that because we had no cash of that means. A fella from McDonald's was very encouraging to Dad about getting into the restaurant franchise. They said, ‘”You gotta get a McDonald's.” So we came to the conclusion that we can try it, even though we knew we had a short falling of cash.”
Bob said that his father’s cohort stated, “There’s this little spot in East Kentucky called Paintsville. We want you to go look at that.”
Bob continued, “Mom, Dad, Tom and I came to Paintsville at the McDonald's recommendation. Mom and Tom weren’t really on fire in the beginning because it was raining, a two lane road and lots of coal trucks. So we went back and said, ‘Aren’t there any other areas?’ So we went back and looked at three or four other spots in the Ohio area, but for one reason or another, we gravitated back here.”
The family returned to Paintsville once again to give the area a second consideration to establish their restaurant.
Bob stated that he loved the area because of the many state parks that were within an hour or so of the town.
“I thought that’s the place we need to be. You’ve got the Daniel Boone National Forest, you’ve got the Red River Gorge, you’ve got Fishtrap, you’ve got Dewey (Jenny Wiley). This place was rocking with that kind of stuff,” Bob explained.
During their second visit to Paintsville they stayed in the Heart O’ Highland’s Motel, one of two motels in the town at the time. The family received a knock on the door of their room by a staff member stating they had to leave because the dam at Paintsville Lake was going to break, a historic moment for many in the area during 1978, and that they must evacuate the town.
“Mom said that’s an omen, we don’t need to be here,” stated Bob.
“I was already in the car,” Tom joked.
After that debacle, the family once again looked for other locations and stores but they were repeatedly told by their advisor that Paintsville was “where it’s at.”
“So we came back, but we didn’t have the money. We needed $250,000,” Bob said. “The next trip was come back with our newly-purchased dress suits and went to the bank. We went to First National Bank and the vice president was very cordial. We sat down and told him we need $250,000 and we want to put in a McDonald's. We knew we were in trouble when he said, ‘What’s a McDonald’s?”’ So we presented a packet to him of what McDonald's was.” After about 15 minutes of deliberation, the Vice President of the bank offered them a mere $25,000.
Bob stated, “We walked out of the bank. Dad was a chain smoker. He lit a cigarette and as we walked down the street toward the car Mom said, ‘No luck there. I can tell by the way you’re walking and smoking.’” Bob said that was the moment when his mother made the switch from pessimist to optimist.
According to Bob, she said, “Now look, there’s another bank down there. You guys go down there and find some money.”
“So we went down to Citizen’s National Bank and were greeted by a very hospitable lady, Nancy Brugh, and we told her what we were looking for,” Bob explained.
Brugh seated the boys in the office of Trigg Dorton, an famous local banker during the time.
Describing Dorton, Bob stated, “He had his three-piece suit, his glasses and a cigar and introduced himself and sat down.”
Dorton allegedly said, “Boys, tell me about yourself. He started with Tom. He said, ‘go back as far as you can remember. Tell me about your life,” Bob stated.
Dorton then asked Bob and his father to do the same.
Bob stated that Dorton was incredibly impressed with their life stories and that Dorton and his father shared a common link- they were both in the Second World War.
“It was the very first time I heard Dad say anything remotely about the war,” said Bob.
He continued, “He was also impressed that Dad was raised in a children’s home. He was impressed that Tom and I started working when we were fourteen.”
The following day, Dorton presented the family with a check for $250,000.
“He was probably the most knowledgeable banker I ever met,” said Bob. “Then, of course, his son Dennis Dorton, who just passed, was my second mentor there.”
They opened a bank account there, deposited the check, and that was the beginning.
Choosing to stay
Tom stated, “By the fall of 1978 we knew we were coming. We broke ground that winter and were open by the fall of 1979.”
He continued, “We opened up on Apple Days — right in the swing of things. McDonald's came in and said there’s no way you guys can handle opening during the festival. We were doing trainings in our living rooms with Styrofoam hamburgers. We were teaching them service. We had nowhere to train them,” Tom laughed. “It really was fun.”
“But despite all that, we opened up on October the 6th, during Apple Days, and it went great,” he said. “We had high sales and the team pulled together. It was phenomenal. McDonald's was in awe.”
Following the opening on the Paintsville store, their advisor in Ohio helped with the banking to open the Hutchisons’ Prestonsburg and Pikeville locations.
“Mom said, ‘Boys, we’re not moving, but sometimes you gotta do things in life you don’t want to do to get where you need to go,’” reminisced Tom.
“So we signed the papers- Dad, Bob and I, and the gentleman leaned backed in his chair and said, ‘Thank God. You guys are the 12th people we’ve sent down there. Everybody else told us to stick it,’” he joked.
Tom stated, “The beauty of it is, this is where we came. But the most beautiful part of it is, this is where we chose to stay. We had chances to leave. We did Paintsville. Pikeville was our next on in 1982. Goody was two weeks after that. Then we came back in 1987 and opened up Prestonsburg as store number four.”
When asked for the reasons they chose to stay here after launching so many successful restaurants, Tom stated, “I think a couple of things. We had people who believed in us — our parents, McDonald's, Mr. Dorton — but we believed in the brand. We believed in McDonald's and we were taught that you have to be entrenched in your communities. We learned that from our parents. We learned to give back. We chose to stay, we chose to be involved and be part of the grain of the community. To us, that’s what created our success. We chose to be local and build upon what we had. We knew we had a beautiful garden here, so we just kept cultivating our garden.”
Not a ‘dead-end’ job
Bob and Tom have given back to their employees and community members in countless ways. Having employed thousands of people over the past several decades, Bob said, “I think we’ve had an impact on a lot of people. Many people that have come through the doorways of the arches have become successful, reaching and fulfilling their dreams. Our biggest reward is working with people who are a little shy, a little backwards and have self-esteem issues and no confidence. I love to coach people that are in those situations, especially the 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18-year-olds that have never been exposed to a lot.
“Also, every manager that we have working with us now has been promoted within, and that in itself is a success,” he continued. Speaking on the work ethic people of Eastern Kentucky, Bob stated, “The people in this area want to work given the opportunity to work.”
“I love giving people second chances,” he said. “We’ve got five or six felons working with us right now. We’ve got several single mothers who have gone through different programs — spousal abuse and things of that nature. It all goes back to their confidence and self-esteem. That’s been my mission field- working with people of that nature.
He continued, “A lot of people refer to McDonald's as a dead-end job. It’s no dead end job at all. It’s whatever an individual wants to make of it. It’s whatever they want to do with it. They can create anything they want to. They’re their own molder of the clay and it’s just a unique thing.”
Tom echoed the sentiment, stating, ““There’s plenty of rewards. Just this week, getting hit up on Facebook by a previous employee who worked with us for six years, who, of course, heard about Bob and I making the change, and there are so many individuals like this young lady who went off to other careers, but what they learned as crew people they’ve carried into their present fields. McDonald's is not a dead end job. It leads to many opportunities. McDonald's has touched so many lives. We’ve been fortunate to be and create McDonald's of East Kentucky and create those opportunities.”
Bob then spoke of various programs that McDonald's offers their employees to better their lives. He mentioned the McDonald’s Archways to Opportunity program, which recently assisted team member Josh Halliday.
He stated, “Through the McDonald's program and through our encouragement, he went to college through the McDonald's program. Now he has a four-year degree with minimal expense to him thanks to McDonald's, Tom and I. He’s a rock star and he’s our IT guy. He’ll be going to HU in the near future and he’ll be dually accredited. He can run a restaurant or he can do IT, whatever fits his niche, no matter where he’s at in life and whether it’s McDonald's of Kentucky and he wants to pack his bags and move west. He is a highly sought after, highly valuable individual.”
Tom noted, “The hospitality industry is here to stay. Their training is so intense with management that an individual can get 22 hours of training that can be converted to accredited college classwork. No restaurant and very few businesses have programs remotely like that.”
It is this spirit of giving back that has continued to drive the two brothers over the years, both within their restaurants and the community at large.
When asked in what ways he has enjoyed giving back the most, Bob stated, “One was being heavily entrenched in Boy Scouts of East Kentucky and I got there through the assistance of Trigg Dorton. Trying to keep Boy Scouts alive in East Kentucky and I was on the Bluegrass Council out of Lexington and I took that position to try to facilitate a stronger stance for Boy Scouts in East Kentucky. I left that position two years ago but I’m still considered an assistant troop master and remain active. I try to keep scouting alive in Johnson County.
“The second thing would be the Christian Appalachian Project,” Bob said. “I’ve been involved with them for 20 plus years and that’s very rewarding in many ways at the local level and also when we have national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to see how well the people of East Kentucky gather around and drive down there to help people in dire straits.”
“Third, mostly, has been education. Whether it’s UPIKE, Mountain Christian Academy when they were around in Martin, or the Johnson County Board of Education. Regardless of which district, this has been my number one thing that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve had some sort of impact with education through different programs here in East Kentucky.”
His brother Tom bragged on him, stating, ““Not being biologically a father, he’s been a father to more kids than anyone can possibly imagine.”
Tom then described the philanthropic efforts that meant the most to him.
“I was on the board of forming Judi’s House in Pikeville,” Tom said. “The arts was a big thing for me. I work a lot with underprivileged kids, usually under my grandmother’s name. I don’t put my name out there. That’s not what it’s about. To me, it’s about I know where I can put something and it gets out there, and you’re helping someone. It goes back to giving back. The littlest thing can mean so much to somebody. If it’s that family, if it’s that crew person at the restaurant, it might be that gentleman at the gas station you see everyday. On and on ... I think it’s the biggest reward is if it’s Christmas and it’s breakfast with Santa and there’s children, seeing those kids smile ... I’m touched, man. That’s it right there. And watching kids grow up.”
Bob then stated, ““The successes and rewards are not always measured in money. There are people in East Kentucky that are as close as family. They are family — extended family here in the hills.”
The two brothers then took a moment to reflect on what it is like to work as partners in their business endeavors.
“It’s very unique,” said Tom, “to be in a partnership for that many years, but then it’s unique added to it to be in partnership with your brother for all of those years. We are totally like night and day. Ask any of our crew. But that’s part of it. I respect Bob’s forte, he respects mine, but do we always agree? No. But when we sit down at a table and we have a discussion, it may not be what I sat down at the table and wanted or thought was best, but when we walk away, we’re on the same mission. What is the result we want? We talk it out. It’s about communication, cooperation and coordination.”
“If we really hit head to head, then we do paper, scissors, rock,” joked Tom.
Bob stated, “My strong points might be his weak points. His strong points might be my weak points. However, through osmosis over the years we’ve been able to balance each other.”
“I’m a very diplomatic guy,” Bob continued. “Tom likes to put a lot of bling in stuff. Tom likes to make stuff look nice. There’s really nothing wrong with it, but we’ve went head-to-head on some of the remodels that we’ve done. Before, when we were allowed the luxury of picking out nice lights and nice wallpaper or quality seating, and he wanted to do things… we went into a boxing match over that one. I said, ‘Do whatever you’d like, but keep in mind that I’ve got the budget.’”
Leaving the business
The decision to move on from McDonald’s, the brothers said, was linked to the death of their older brother at 70.
“Bob and I reflected on the passing of our older brother and thought when is the right time?” Tom said. “I don’t know if there is a right time, but we did make a plan and so we made the availability. What was nice is that some of the perimeters we had set were like ‘Who’s going to come in and represent and take care of our people? Who would take care of our guests? Who is going to best reflect what we’ve laid a great foundation out for?’ It was about finding the right team, family or person who had the same beliefs and was going to keep our company intact.”
For Bob and Tom, the Faris family was the perfect fit for continuing their legacy.
Bob stated, “It was an easy decision. We’ve had five or six people approach us over the last couple of years without even putting a sign out. It was really easy when we saw who they (the Faris family) are personally and professionally. We knew who to sell it to. They’re people-oriented.”
Tom echoed the sentiment, stating, “The Farises, what they had to offer us and what they had to offer the team, I want to say that we are like book ends. Bob, Tom and the Faris family. Same core beliefs. That’s what felt good.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if they make this organization better than it already is,” said Bob.
The two brothers plan to remain in Eastern Kentucky and continue making a difference in their communities.
Tom stated, ““What’s most important is that Bob and I came here almost 42 years ago to go into business. We had the opportunity to leave many times, to relocate. But we chose to stay because the mountains spoke to us and there’s a lot of opportunity here. We’ve seen a lot of opportunity here- but the people. The people in the communities and the people that were with us in our organization- our company was really powered by people with pride and we knew we had everything we ever set out for and that we could begin and continue our foundation by staying here in Eastern Kentucky, where we chose to make our home. We’re still in the community. We’ll still be engrained in many things in the community. We are not leaving or abandoning, we are just taking ourselves to the next level.”
Bob stated, “We will be here, we will be active, we will be involved and the thing that’s keeping us here is the people — the people in the mountains. People here have been great- we’ve been able to help a lot of people, but there’s a lot of people that have been able to help us.”
Tom said the brothers are simply opening another chapter in their lives.
“We walked in together, and we’re walking out together,” he said. “It’s a beautiful scenery.”