It wasn’t knedlíky and zelí, but Ray Kroc, with his Czech roots, made his name in food

Ray Kroc. Getty Image, used with permission.

Ray Kroc. Getty Image, used with permission.

I doubt there is an American alive today who doesn’t know the name of the mastermind of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc.

But I wonder how many of them know he was of Czech ancestry?  I wish as many as that wonderful old slogan they used on their signs … ‘billions served’.

There are a lot of valuable lessons we can learn from Ray Kroc.  For instance did you know he actually didn’t ‘start’ McDonald’s, but rather bought a single restaurant from brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald?  Born in 1902 in Oak Park, Illinois, did you know he didn’t buy McDonald’s (at that time the brothers’ single restaurant in San Bernardino, California) until he was in his 50’s?  By the time he passed away in 1984, Ray would have also owned the San Diego Padres Major League Baseball team and McDonald’s had become the largest restaurant franchise in the world.

His father, Louis, was born in the village of Břasy, near Plzeň in Bohemia and in 1901 he married Rose Hrach in Cook County, Illinois.  Rose was not born in Bohemia, but rather was born in Illinois, but did have Bohemian roots with her father being born in Bohemia while her mother was also born in Illinois.  Ray was born a year later was Louis and Rose’s eldest child and was later joined in the family by a brother and a sister.

As with any person who takes on a persona that is larger than life, there are many stories and tales about Ray Kroc.  One thing is not in dispute though.  He was a driven, fanatical, vindictive, and wildly successful businessman, even if it did cost him his first two marriages.  Many of the other stories about Ray Kroc are harder to know if they are truth, fiction, or a mixture of both.

There is a tale told about the family that goes like this.  Early in his life, Ray was taken to a phrenologist (a person who supposedly can tell you future by the bumps on your head) by his father.  This ‘expert’ supposedly forecast that Ray would make his fortune in the food industry.

Another story says that Ray offered to have McDonald’s at Disneyland, but that Walt Disney himself insisted on French fries there being a nickel more an order than elsewhere.  Ray, it is said, refused to allow his customers to be gouged and refused.  Others say Walt never bothered to respond at all to Ray’s overture.

There is one tale that ties back in to Ray’s Czech heritage.  It is said, although the author has yet to receive any verification of this fact from the corporate archives of McDonald’s Corporation, Ray decided to introduce kolache to the McDonald’s menu – and that it was a disaster.  The story continues by saying it was a disaster of such large proportions it is only surpassed by his all-time food disaster of the ‘hula burger’—an interesting (at least to me) concoction of grilled pineapple, two slices of American cheese on a grilled bun.  No matter if it is true or not, it does make for a fun story and serves to highlight Ray’s cultural heritage, which was not something he spoke to often.

It did get me to thinking though.  With the current dip in sales at McDonald’s, perhaps they need to get back to Ray’s roots and begin offering knedlíky!

I know I’d be the first in line!


A Genealogical Historian, who is focused on family history and genealogy of the highest quality, but with a dose of fun. Avid about documentation and evidence. Loves helping folks of all levels in their genealogy pursuits, especially in the areas of Bohemia, Czech Republic, Italy, Cornwall, Kent, United Kingdom, U.S. Immigration and Cleveland, Ohio.

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