Same location, new look

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At two in the afternoon, the odour of hot oil and French fries wafts through the air of McDonald’s central location in St. Albert.

Busy cooks hustle over clean-scrubbed tiles. They fill bags and prepare food, while others serve a steady stream of customers. A computer in the kitchen tells the cooking stations what to prepare within seconds of an order being placed.

On the other side of the counter, customers lounge on cozy chairs, small stools with thick cushions, and booths. An artificial fireplace warms the room from a wood-panelled wall in the middle of the restaurant.

Rob and Karen Chiasson, owners of all four local McDonald’s, sit in a small room in the back – a place for parties and meetings.

The couple re-opened the St. Albert Trail location a week ago, after months of renovations to the St. Albert franchises.

“What’s important to customers today is that the business is convenient to them,” said Rob.

“Convenient is a lot of different things. It’s faster service, it’s faster drive-through, and it’s television, music and a place to plug in your laptop.”

That list can go on: different seating, a self-serve beverage station, free newspapers, and a new playground and Wi-Fi Internet service. If all you remember of McDonald’s are yellow and red plastic benches, be prepared for a surprise.

While all four St. Albert locations were re-designed, the St. Albert Trail restaurant also has a new drive-through, a first-of-its-kind in Canada.

“You order, you drive up to the cash booth and then to the presentation booth,” said Rob.

“And if someone comes in with an order for 12 McCafĂ©s you just ask them to pull forward to the next window, the third booth.”

Rob and Karen have been married for 24 years and became franchisees in September 2011.

Originally from Montreal, they moved around the globe with McDonalds – from Turkey to Thailand and Singapore and eventually back to Vancouver. Rob has been with the company for 33 years.

The couple met when he was training Karen, and when they got serious she left to work for another company. Later on, she followed him around the world – he working in the restaurants, she heavily involved in the Ronald McDonald House charity.

“And after 33 years we decided it was time for a change and to own our own business and why buy anything other than a McDonald’s franchise when you have all this experience?” he said.

“Operating our own restaurant is great, and it’s such a great community as well,” added Karen.

Behind them a glass wall looks into the re-designed, three-storey play area. With all other renovations in mind, Rob and Karen are proudest of the new playground.

“We went to look at a similar playground on Vancouver Island to have a feel for the toys and Rob got in there and tested all of them,” said Karen.

“The play structure is designed to help kids with their motor skills. All the games are about learning.”

Trevor Zahara, owner of St. Albert-based Peak Play Environments, said the playground was inspired by outdoor designs with a number of balance, strength and motor skill challenges.

There’s a log roll, several balancing toys, a sky wheel to spin in and a pogo stick that even adults can jump on. And, of course, there’s a slide.

On the lower level, toddlers can climb and slide and play with an activity panel, moving balls and gears around. There are also two touch screens with electronic games designed to visually and mentally stimulate small children.

The entire playground is accessible to adults through a stairway and parents can keep an eye on their kids from inside the restaurant.

While Zahara built playgrounds in St. Albert, across Canada and the world, he said Rob and Karen were especially persistent in making him re-design and add to the playground.

“They said they want the best playground in the community and they pushed the envelope because it’s the most jam-packed playground I ever put in a McDonald’s,” he laughs.

The grand opening celebration of the 369 St. Albert Trail location takes place this Sunday, Jan. 27. Karen said there would be a face painter and balloon artist in the morning and afternoon, as well as a magic show by famous clown Ronald McDonald at 1 p.m.

The ribbon cutting with Mayor Nolan Crouse and MLA Stephen Khan will take place at 12:45 p.m. Customers can expect coffee and cake tastings and a chance to win a McCafé ceramic mug.

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