A Note from the Editor-in-Chief:
The last couple of weeks have been pretty busy here at The Zephyr Lounge. We’ve developed our Publication Division, who have been putting together the first bi-monthly issue of our magazine, also titled The Zephyr Lounge, which is to be published here in the next few days. Also, some of the senior staff took a week-long sabbatical to San Antonio, which proved to be more aggravating than relaxing (more to come on that soon!). During this hectic time, some of our other staff members took it upon themselves to create a new post. They tirelessly researched some of the biggest brand failures of all-time and decided to interview those closest to the incidents that placed black marks on the companies you and I love so much. They compiled their notes (while we presume doing shots of coffee and Four Loko) and handed them in to me upon my return, then promptly were rushed to the hospital because that specific beverage concoction is what we call here at The Zephyr Lounge, “bad news bears.” So, here you have it, the efforts of our atenolol-and-Bayer-popping junior staff. Enjoy.
For every great idea a company comes up with, there are many scrapped ones. Imagine a boardroom full of important figureheads discussing how to launch their company above the competition, scarfing Chinese food and staring a flow-charts and numbers until they (figuratively?) start writing suicide notes on their iPhones and Facebook pages. Ah, that’s the life.
We, the junior staff at The Zephyr Lounge, decided to take a page from their books. We shot coffee into our bloodstreams and hunted these men and women down, asking them not about their biggest successes, but their most epic failures. What were they thinking? Did anything tip them off before the media lambasting? Why did these products and ambitions fail miserably?
Some of them denied us (and drafted restraining orders… Biscuit isn’t allowed within 100 feet of any McDonald’s restaurant), but some of them were gracious (or vindictive) enough to give us the interviews we desired. So, for your knowledgeable entertainment pleasure, here are some of the biggest brand failures of all-time, in their own words.
Today’s entry comes from junior writer Biscuit, who discovers not only the dark stories from the sketchy past of McDonald’s, but the chilling tale of how it all affected one of their most-memorable mascots. Be warned, this interview is disturbing and not recommended for sensitive readers.
Burnt French Fries in the Sleeve: Dark Days in McDonaldland
It was really fucking hot when I was kicked out of the McDonald’s flagship restaurant in San Bernardino, California. My skin actually singed on contact. I rubbed my arm, then bent down and picked up my pen and my notes, giving the golden arches a finger and a crotch chop before walking through the parking lot back to my car. A mid-size sedan crossed my path, containing a woman in her early-30’s and three children. I knocked on their window and to my surprise, the woman rolled it down. She asked me what I wanted, and I responded with the following:
“Don’t feed this shit to your kids. It’ll give them Lou Gherig’s Disease.”
She rolled up her window and hit the gas, crushing my foot underneath the wheels of her car. I threw a rock at it, prompting her to stop abruptly. Sensing how bad this situation could get, I bolted, leaping over a fence into an alley, landing on my ass in a puddle of what I hoped was water. I got up slowly and rubbed it, letting out a sigh while I tried to figure out how I was getting back to Dallas. All of a sudden, I hard a “psst” from behind a large dumpster. What emerged shocked me.
The Hamburgler looked exactly as he did in my youth, you know, back when he was on television and an acknowledged member of the McDonald’s community. Well, aside from the fact he was emaciated and had a face covered in pock marks. He motioned for me to come closer to him. I was at first hesitant, but then I remembered I didn’t have a burger on me, so I shrugged. Why not? When I got close to him, he whispered.
“Do you want some answers?”
I nodded. The Hamburgler took me further into the alley, opening a door that led to a below-ground apartment. The room was dark, completely black save for a couple of strategically placed lamps with dim bulbs. There were condoms and McDonald’s wrappers strewn throughout the room, and syringes containing ketchup, mustard, and “special sauce” residue littered the floor, creating detours for the ants and roaches that scurried through the burnt orange carpeting. It was the residence of an addict, one who fell from grace in the worst way possible. This was the home of the Hamburgler.
“I’ve got all of the dirt you need, buddy,” the former thief of McDonaldland announced, opening a bag and removing a McDouble. “Every fucking thing you need to know about the corruption in that joint.” I nodded, expressing interest in what he had to say, and watched him chop the McDouble into small pieces that he placed in a blender, chopped fine. He removed, then snorted, the bits of processed goodness.
I grabbed my notebook and pen. “Whenever you’re ready,” I said.
The Hamburgler nodded. The interview began.
TZL: So, give me some dirt on the epic failures.
Hamburgler: (taps a ketchup syringe) What do you want to know specifically?
TZL: I don’t know… wherever you think is a good starting point.
Hamburgler: You know, McDonaldland is real.
Hamburgler: Oh yes. We all used to live there. It wasn’t necessarily harmonious, but it was a good place to spend our days.
TZL: Not harmonious?
Hamburgler: (wraps a band around his bare arm) Dude, I’m a criminal. (taps the inside of his elbow)
TZL: I know that. I was a child of the 80’s. I remember you.
Hamburgler: (shoots up ketchup, leans back and takes a deep breath through his nose) Then you remember Officer Big Mac.
TZL: (nods) Yes, I do.
Hamburgler: He was a prick.
TZL: What does this have to do with the failures of McDonald’s products?
Hamburgler: I’m getting to that. (lights a cigarette) It all started with Captain Crook.
TZL: The one that resembled Captain Hook from Peter Pan?
Hamburgler: Yeah, him. I was just a regular guy before that piece of shit came along.
TZL: How so?
Hamburgler: He was the original criminal of McDonaldland. His reign of terror began in 1970, and the next year, he made me who I am. I was just a rebellious teenager before he came along. He took me under his wing, and since my own father was a horse’s ass, he presented himself as the way a father should be.
Hamburgler: Little did I know…
TZL: That he would lead you down the path of a convict?
Hamburgler: (nods) Yeah. Well, more like an addict.
TZL: How so?
Hamburgler: I didn’t really eat a lot of burgers at the time. Thanks to Captain Crook, I succumbed to the addictive effects of these little circular beauties. (chops another line of McDouble) Obviously.
TZL: So, Hamburgler, what about the product failures?
Hamburgler: I’m getting to that. (does a line of McDouble) Anyway, while attempting to keep my hamburger addiction secret and listening to the twisted philosophies of Captain Crook, I became a member of the McDonaldland Parlaiment in the early 70’s, not long after I met Captain Crook. I actually came up with the idea of the McMuffin.
Hamburgler: Yeah. I was in the middle of a three day Big Mac binge and had the realization that I wanted something a little more… what’s the word… “breakfasty?”
TZL: I thought Ray Kroc and Herb Peterson were responsible for that.
Hamburgler: As far as the history books go, yes. But, the true story of the McMuffin is as follows: I was in Santa Barbara, in the middle of said Big Mac binge, and stumbled into a McDonalds, demanding breakfast. Peterson had no idea what I was asking about, so I elaborated by saying that I wanted “Canadian bacon, egg, and cheese on a bun.” Peterson told me he couldn’t do that, so I cursed him, pissed on his floor, and left. Apparently, he thought my demand was an interesting one, since he presented it as a new product idea to Ray Kroc not long after that.
TZL: Dude. That sucks.
Hamburgler: Yeah. I didn’t get a single shred of credit for it. But, Peterson became hot shit.
TZL: Damn, man.
Hamburgler: When I discovered what had happened, I told Ronald [McDonald] about what happened. He told me, and I quote, “tough shit, buddy”, then congratulation Peterson on a “job well done”. After that, I noticed Officer Big Mac following me around more often.
TZL: Was Ronald on to your addiction?
Hamburgler: Perhaps. But, I don’t think that was the reason.
TZL: What do you think was the reason?
Hamburgler: It’ll all make sense a little further into the story.
TZL: Gotcha. So, what happened next?
Hamburgler: Well, the next few years were pretty eventful. That year, 1972, the company turned $1 billion in sales for the first time, then just a few years later, turned $3 billion and sold our billionth burger. We opened the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia in ’74, then there was the U.K…
TZL: What happened?
Hamburgler: Well, you have to understand, the McDonaldland Parlaiment had changed dramatically by that time.
TZL: What do you mean?
Hamburgler: Well, aside of myself and Ronald, Grimace sat as well. With the move into the U.K. in full-swing, Grimace suggested we just use the same employment forms over there as we did here in the U.S. I thought it was a horrible idea, but Ronald and the big shots outside of McDonaldland saw nothing wrong with it. Majority vote ruled, and the forms were shipped off to the United Kingdom. Of course, the forms asked new employees if they wanted to contribute to an I.R.A., which in the U.S. is an Individual Retirement Account, but in the U.K., it’s also an acronym for the Irish Republican Army, a terrorist organization.
Hamburgler: Yeah, so we were accused of giving money to terrorists. I told Ronald, I said, “I told you so”, but he just sneered and blamed the people of the United Kingdom for being, quote, “simpletons and idiots”.
TZL: From the way you’ve talked about Ronald, he seems like a pretty corrupt guy.
Hamburgler: You have no fucking idea. (lights a cigarette) You know, I don’t put it past him to have actually been giving money to terrorists.
TZL: That’s a bold statement.
Hamburgler: Yeah, well, if the shoe fits, right?
TZL: I suppose so.
Hamburgler: Anyway, in ’75, we made it to New Zealand, despite the apprehensions of Ray Kroc and Ronald McDonald. They thought it was a stupid idea since, apparently, Kroc and McDonald had never seen such a “more dead-than-alive hole in [their] lives.” However, persistence from Wally and Hugh Morris payed off and the opening of the restaurant in Porirua generated a pretty good amount of business.
TZL: I see… then what happened?
Hamburgler: Well, I entered a pretty intense relationship with one of our competitors, Wendy [from Wendy’s], and got her to sign a document saying that she wouldn’t sue if we started using drive-thru service. Then, I broke up with her.
Hamburgler: She was a fine piece of ass too… Mmmm…
TZL: You fucked Wendy?!
TZL: Wasn’t she, like, 14 man?!
Hamburgler: (nods) I was really fucked up, man. I was shooting special sauce, like, 10 times a day. I didn’t know what I was doing…
TZL: Jailbait, dude!
Hamburgler: Anyway, Officer Big Mac found out about it, then arrested me. I would only be given probation if I agreed to join a help group.
TZL: Did you?
Hamburgler: Yeah, and believe it or not, I got clean.
Note: While he was adamant about doing so, further research concluded that the Hamburgler DID NOT, in fact, have any kind of relationship with Wendy. This was a delusion he created while on an intense trip that ultimately landed him in rehab. In reality, there was no trademark infringement as far as the drive-thru was concerned.
TZL: So, you were clean after that?
Hamburgler: Yes, I was. It felt amazing. So much, in fact, that right after leaving rehab, I came up with my magnum opus.
TZL: Which was?
Hamburgler: … Happy Meals.
TZL: You created Happy Meals?!
Hamburgler: Yes, I did. While I was at my help group, I noticed that many people told me that their kids can’t eat an entire meal at McDonald’s, but wanted the same items, such as fries and a drink. Since my departure from my help group was followed by a short sabbatical to Guatemala, I decided to see how their McDonald’s restaurants were doing. I met Yolanda Fernandez de Cofino, who ran several locations with her husband, and we hammered out the details, creating the Ronald Menu — a hamburger, small fries, and a small sundae. Something specifically for the kids. So, in true McDonald’s fashion, it catches on. This time, it made it’s way to Chicago, where Bob Bernstein [of Bernstein-Rein Advertising] made a couple of small changes and unveiled, you guessed it, the Happy Meal.
TZL: So, you got screwed again?
Hamburgler: Yeah, I did, and to top it all off, I was fucking sober.
TZL: Did you relapse?
Hamburgler: No, I didn’t. At least not at that time.
TZL: Ah. So, what happened next?
Hamburgler: The Burger Wars…
TZL: The Burger Wars?
Hamburgler: (sighs) Can we take a break?
For about a half hour, I sat looking over my notes while Hamburgler continued his fast food binge. He did more McDouble lines and ate several Big Macs. By the time the interview resumed, he was in a processed meat-induced state similar to one’s I achieved as a teenager via Robitussin and Benadryl. He was probably seeing McNuggets dancing on the arm of his dilapidated couch.
TZL: So, shall we continue?
Hamburgler: (staring at his couch) Sure…
TZL: So, the Burger Wars. Care to elaborate?
Hamburgler: It all probably started with the Wendy incident.
As I stated before, this never happened.
Hamburgler: We rolled out chicken products in 1979, introducing the McNugget, and McChicken in 1980. The original McChicken sandwich tanked within a year, and was replaced with a series of chicken sandwiches afterward. The McNuggets proved so popular that it took until 1983 to figure out a way to avoid running out.
TZL: Why did the chicken products come out in the first place?
Hamburgler: To compete with other fast food places.
TZL: Ah. What else?
Hamburgler: Well, Birdie came along to assist in the promotion of breakfast products in 1980, and we introduced salads in 1985, but myself and the rest of the McDonaldland Parlaiment felt that we needed to be bolder. So, we took some time looking over old product launches and decided to put something… what’s the word… “unique” on the menu.
TZL: Oh, hell…
Hamburgler: Yeah. We put a plan into motion and hoped that it wouldn’t go by the way of the Hula Burger, but out of nowhere, McDonaldland took a real blow.
TZL: What do you mean?
Hamburgler: Well, a lot of people who were actively involved in the political structure of McDonaldland suddenly vacated.
TZL: Who exactly?
Hamburgler: (lights a cigarette) Captain Crook was imprisoned. Mayor McCheese resigned due to scandal. The Professor was exiled. Officer Big Mac was found dead, by unknown causes, in his home. The Hamburger Patch was burned asunder. But God-fucking-forbid those assholes keep Uncle O’Grimacey from coming around every March with his clover and crack milkshakes.
TZL: Wow! When did all of this happen?
TZL: That’s unreal.
Hamburgler: Yeah. They all tried to make a comeback into the system at some point over the last several years, but it was like walking into a bear trap. Ronald wasn’t having it.
TZL: Did he orchestrate their removal?
Hamburgler: Yeah. I’m pretty sure he did, anyway. He became Chancellor after that.
TZL: So, it was just you, Ronald McDonald, Grimace, and Birdie after that?
Hamburgler: Primarily, yes. But, the Fry Kids and the Happy Meal Gang were all still around.
TZL: So, how was the competition with Wendy’s and Burger King going?
Hamburgler: For most of the decade, it was going okay. No one really had any more pull than the others, and in competitive business, being neck-and-neck is usually better than falling behind, which as you know, the company did in the late 1990’s.
TZL: What happened from there?
Hamburgler: In the mid-80’s we, like other places that employed teenagers, faced a labor shortage, which prompted us to pull retirees back into the workforce. Because of this, Hamburger University — (which opened in Oak Brook, Illinois in 1961) — had a large number of students. By the early, early 1990’s, there were over 40,000 people holding a “Bachelor of Hamburgerology” from the Oak Brook school alone. That isn’t counting those who graduated from the campuses in Tokyo, Munich, and London.
TZL: Bachelor of Hamburgerology?
Hamburgler: Yeah. Also, by the early 90’s, we were operating 3,600 restaurants in 58 countries, not counting the United States, and their income made up 37% of our system-wide sales.
TZL: No shit…?
Hamburgler: No shit, and Ronald loved it. By the late 80’s, he was feeling pretty untouchable. That’s when shit got real.
TZL: What do you mean?
Hamburgler: Ronald decided to “rev up” the menu. The McPizza. The McDLT. The McLean Deluxe. McSpaghetti. McBrats. McHotDog. The Arch Deluxe. The McLobster. It was insane. The menu items popped up, then were gone just as quickly. Also, thanks to fucking Steven Spielberg and Jurassic Park, you could Super Size your meals. They called it “Dino-Size” at first, but that shit held on until 2004.
TZL: It was an option. People love options for their food.
Hamburgler: All it did was make food that was already bad for you and addicting, (points to his table) even worse.
TZL: What about the entrees listed above? Why did they fail?
Hamburgler: Personal opinion? Ronald McDonald is an elitist dick and drug pusher. Actual reason? Just look at their fucking names…
Hamburgler: We offered the McPizza because no one else did, which was the same reason Ronald used for the McBrats, McHotDog, and McLobster. Our direct competition didn’t have items like that, and were suffering their own setbacks thanks to ill-conceived SuperBar’s and table service. Our goal was always to beat them, and by 1989, 90, 91, they were all reeling from failed ventures themselves. It’s the same thing as kicking a man when he’s down. The problem was that Ronald McDonald had no idea how to get this shit done. Not only was he putting items on the menu that, in some cases, had never been seen on a fast-food menu ever, but he had no idea how to market these items. That son of a bitch took over the marketing department, too! That annoying ass “Have You Had Your Break Today?” shit? That was his. Thankfully, Birdie and I managed to talk that elitist ass into partnering with Warner Brothers and other companies to keep advertising relevant. He wanted to get the “Where’s the Beef?” lady and make her jump ship. Fucking idiot.
TZL: Yeah, I remember those Looney Plays To Go Cups.
Hamburgler: And the Space Jam toys and all the other Warner Brothers licensed shit we did in the 90’s. Had Ronald gotten his way, we’d probably have made Bea Arthur commemorative trading cards.
TZL: You have a lot of hostility toward Ronald McDonald. Not that I blame you. He’s, as you said, an elitist ass. But was there something really bad that happened between you?
Hamburglar: (lights a cigarette) Yeah. There was. By 2004, the “Made For You” campaign was failing miserably, there were a ton of strikes against us for new product failures, our investment into “Teenie Beanie Babies” caused drama the likes of which the toy retailers were seeing, we’d been sued countless times by fat people who did nothing but eat our food and vegetarians who figured we lied about the oil our fries are made in, we had successful launches for McGriddles and McFlurry’s, and we had ventured into taking shares in other food chains. It was a busy time, but sales were definitely lackluster. At best.
TZL: What happened?
Hamburglar: In April 2004, some asshole decided it was a good idea to call our location in Mount Washington, Kentucky.
TZL: Oh shit.
Hamburglar: You remember this one, don’t you? Then you recall the shift manager, Donna Summers, was duped by someone on the phone named “Officer Scott” to detain a female employee, strip her, and perform a search. You also recall this was followed by the shift manager’s fiancee, Walter Nix, keeping watch of the employee for three-and-a-half hours, during which time “Officer Scott” told Nix to make her take her apron off, do jumping jacks, dance, and even suck his dick.
TZL: Yeah, that was heinous, man. I can’t believe that shit happened. But, what does it have to do with you?
Hamburglar: Well, apparently this was just one incident from a long-list, and a few of them had been directed at McDonald’s locations. Ronald noticed a pattern, and when the police were investigating the Mount Washington incident, I was called to do damage control. Unfortunately, the whole thing snowballed and I couldn’t perform the job. The company’s name was tainted even more than it had been and, in the aftermath, we were found to have been partially-responsible for the event.
TZL: Did Ronald not take the previous incidents seriously?
Hamburglar: No one did, except me, Birdie, and Grimace. So, the victim of the Mount Washington attack, God bless her heart, turned around and crucified us. While Ronald and the other execs were taken aback and upset by her decision, she made a very valid point. No one within the Company had acknowledged what had happened and because of that, no steps were made to make sure it didn’t happen again. So, by cause and effect, it happened again. Ronald put me in a situation no one could handle and basically staked my job on the performance. After it all went to shit, I began feeling the brunt of the Clown’s wrath.
TZL: How so?
Hamburglar: I was terminated. Thirty-three years of service and I was shown the door, no goodbye, no pension, nothing, except a dragon that came back. I was broke and jobless, and by that time, the economy was in the shitter. I lived in McDonaldland a bit longer, on the outskirts, but eventually made my way here, to San Bernardino. My roommate is a guy named Spider who does tattoos in his bedroom and sells tons and tons of drugs. I make my money selling bootleg DVD’s and being a male prostitute. I’m HIV+ and am on my last leg. Thanks to Ronald McDonald throwing me under the bus, I get to live in this shit-hole apartment while he lives in his McMansion, drives his McFerrari, bones McHookers, is the subject of McInternet memes, and shoots commercials with inner-city McKids.
TZL: The “I’m Lovin’ It” campaign?
TZL: What the hell was up with that?
Hamburglar: Well, according to what I was told, Ronald was busted in Los Angeles with a bunch of cocaine in his car. He spent some time in prison because of it and when he was released, he had embraced the culture of Los Angeles. He felt that with the Company demographics reflecting more inner-city families eating at the restaraunts, then the Company needed to re-brand to fit in with those demographics.
TZL: Hence all the hip-hop and soul jingles?
TZL: What did you think of it?
Hamburglar: By that time, I hated just about everything McDonald’s stood for. So, I vented that anger by hooking up with Dave Chappelle and creating the “WacArnold’s” skits.
TZL: No way! You did that?!
Hamburglar: Yeah. I chose to not be credited, but Dave was gracious enough to write me a check, which unfortunately, I blew on my habit.
TZL: Damn man. So, what are you going to do now?
Hamburglar: Well, I have no job, no car, no ambition, and very little time left. I figure I’ll just sit here, finish destroying my body, and wait for this to come out.
TZL: Sounds like you have it all planned out…
Hamburglar: I’m tired, man. I’m just exhausted. I have no drive anymore. I’m ready to go, man.
TZL: I’m sorry, Hamburglar. I’m sorry that your life ended this way and not the way it should have.
Hamburglar: It’s no problem at all, man. I’m happy now. It’s all going to end soon. I’ll finally be at peace.
We parted ways at that. I left his apartment, back into the blistering sunshine of San Bernardino. I had an incredible story from an incredible individual who got an incredibly bad break and was suffering because of one man’s actions. I came back to Texas and immediately began to work, the whole time wondering if the Hamburglar had drawn his last breath or not.
I guess I’ll never know, which could very well be a good thing. One of my favorite mascots from my childhood is spending his final days as a ghost of his former self, locked away with ants, roaches, and a sketchy roommate, maintaining what little happiness he has with fast-food, razorblades, and syringes full of condiments. His life is a chilling tale of greed, elitism, and poor response. One day, I know the Hamburglar will be free of these tortures that bond him to this hapless Earth, and when that time comes, a misunderstood and abused soul will finally dance through the Hamburger patch of Heaven.
Postscript: While writing this article, I tried to contact others who had fallen victim to Ronald McDonald’s reign of torment, if for nothing else than to get their sides of the story Hamburglar told me. I came to find out that Ronald McDonald is the only person from McDonaldland still within the company.
Birdie was terminated in 2006 because of a “conflict of interest” with Ronald himself, but as I would find out, she denied repeated sexual advances from the Clown.
Grimace is no longer with us, having passed of an aortic dissection in 2009. He was 59.
Mayor McCheese unsuccessfully ran for his old position in 2006 and 2010, before finally giving up on politics. He retired to a remote section of McDonaldland and, in 2011, overdosed on Valium, caffeine-pills, Spanish Fly, and special sauce. He was 69 years old.
Captain Crook, the man responsible for Hamburglar’s addictions, as well as his tenure in McDonaldland Parlaiment, was murdered in 1998, while trying to steal food from a McDonald’s location in Fort Worth, Texas. The Fort Worth Police listed the killing as “self-defense” and no charges were brought against the employee who gunned him down. He was 57.
The Professor was tragically killed in the middle of an experiment to make Chicken McNuggets even more enjoyable. In 2002, his lab exploded, taking three other employees with him. He, too, was 57.
Uncle O’Grimacey died of milkshake toxicity in 2008, at the age of 81.
The Happy Meal Gang turned to a life of crime after leaving McDonaldland in 2001. They are thought to have been responsible for the murder of several other brand mascots, including the original Chester Cheetah and the original Link from Legend of Zelda, and have also been implicated in multiple rapes and robberies throughout McDonaldland and the United States. In 2009, Drink was shot and killed by McDonaldland Federal Agents at the PlayPlace, while Hamburger and Fries are still at large. There is a reward of a $300 gift card for any information that helps lead to their arrest.
CosMc, who visited some of the McDonaldland Parlaiment shortly after the 1985 employee dismissal, and again when a few of the members went to the Moon, created an Empire on his home planet with the McDonald’s recipes. Since he rose to power, he is responsible for the deaths of nearly five million citizens, turning his planets government into one that closely resembles the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.
No one else could be reached for comment and no information about them could be located at all. We assume their living quiet, drama-free lives.