By Thom Gerretsen
You can tell how healthy a community is by its fast-food offerings. Restaurant chains and their franchisees check out population sizes and numerous business indicators in deciding where to locate. And, with a population of just below 20,000, Marshfield’s fast-food status is not perfect – but it’s far from the worst.
I recently walked past McDonald’s on one of my exercise walks, and it triggered a lot of memories. When I moved to Marshfield in 1978, this was the first place I lived which had its own. And for all that time, the city has had only one Mickey D’s – Central Ave. and Ives St., close to the mall which was still one year from opening when I arrived.
Chips hamburgers, a locally-popular chain, was a couple blocks away near Central and Upham. The former Burger Chef was much closer to the downtown at Blodgett and Central. Colonel Sanders’ KFC had a fast chicken alternative from my first day here.
In the ’80s, Hardee’s was kitty-korner from Mac’s at Central and Ives. Burger King later came to its present spot at that intersection. And, both Hardee’s and Chips found new homes on Marshfield’s south side, where they still reside. Other chains have found a niche in Marshfield. Subway has five locations, a runaway record for this city. Still others, such as Wendy’s, have come and gone.
Fazoli’s “Italian Food Fast” chain teased us by having a booth at Dairyfest a number of years ago. Lots of people have wanted a Fazoli’s – but the nearest remains in Stevens Point.
Meanwhile, the city’s largest grocery chains have all filled the gap by providing expanded delicatessens that also feed some of our fast-food cravings.
As the first of its genre in the early 1960s, McDonald’s remains the most personal for me and many others. It was Ron Fish’s first; he now owns several in the region. I later learned that he, like me, graduated from UW-Whitewater. That city didn’t have Mac’s when I went to school there; it arrived after I left in 1975.
When Dennis McCann was with the old Milwaukee Journal, he once wrote weekly features on Wisconsin cities for what was then a full travel section on Sundays. When he listed their populations, he wrote whether they were “big enough to have a McDonald’s.” Tomah was about the smallest I could remember. Now, of course, places as small as Thorp have Mac’s – as long as they’re close to freeway exits.
McDonald’s remains a favorite place for me and my wife Jean. For most of our nearly 39-year marriage, we’ve shared coffee and breakfast on Sunday mornings – mostly at the same booths that have only changed a couple times, most recently when the restaurant was rebuilt a few years ago.