Big Mac Museum Restaurant
North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania
Fast food has fickle gods. Early in 2007, they saw fit to close the World's First Wendy's museum/restaurant, denying the world (for the time being) the chance to visit Danny Thomas's Frosty cup. But on August 23, 2007, America was given a new shrine: the Big Mac Museum Restaurant. It lacks some of the quirky charm of Wendy's reliquary, but it does have a 14-foot-tall Big Mac.
The world's favorite monster burger was born about 40 miles south of here, in Uniontown, when franchisee Jim Delligatti introduced it as a menu item in August 1967. Delligatti's family now owns 18 McDonald's, and they decided to open their museum on the Big Mac's 40th anniversary in North Huntingdon, rather than at the birthplace, because this store gets more traffic. There's no need to make this any more of a pilgrimage than necessary.
We visited on a Friday, at dinnertime, and the place was packed with squealing kids and exhausted-looking parents. This is a working McDonald's restaurant. Pondering the exhibits in the walnut display cases can be a little awkward, as you often have to lean over tables of chewing customers.
One also gets the sense that the memorabilia was scrubbed by corporate headquarters: there are no failed test burgers, no World's Oldest Special Sauce splatter preserved in plexiglass, no medical chart of Don Gotske, the guy who's eaten over 21,000 Big Macs since 1972. Instead you'll see a Big Mac toaster used from 1970 to 1997, a Big Mac Sauce Gun (it looks like a grease gun), and assorted business awards such as, "A Long And Tasteful Partnership: Coca-Cola and Big Mac."
For those of us ingesting Big Macs since the early days, there's an Ascent of Packaging display tracing the evolution of the wrapper through its styrofoam container incarnations, to the recycled, ecologically sensitive burger boxes, and then back to paper wrappers. The Ingredient Mantra ("2 all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese…") is a wallpaper pattern in the dining room.
While corporate McD's exerts apparent influence, we noticed that the local franchisee is free to create areas of Kroc-less worship of other entrepreneurial deities.
One case displays bobble-heads of the Delligatti management team, presided over by Chief Big Mac. A life-size bronze bust of Delligatti occupies a center table, the sacred revelation in his hand a Big Mac. Another table remembers Pittsburgh mayor Sophie Masloff, who declared September 25, 1992, to be "McDonald's Corporation Day," and renamed the city "Big Mac USA."
The final holy station is the furthest back, in an indoor corner of the "Playplace," and here we must express a bit of disappointment. The World's Largest Big Mac is an excellent statue, spotlit and set upon a large, fake, silver pedestal. But the windows around it are tinted so that you cannot see it from the highway. If you put something big inside in a window, you should be able to see it from outside. Perhaps the tint keeps fast food consumers-in-training from being sun-grilled, and reduces the air conditioning bill, but the Playplace is just the wrong place to put something as humbling as a 14-foot-tall Big Mac.
It should be given its own room, and respect, away from screaming broods and surrounded by soundproofed walls -- just a few comfortable pews with cup-holders. Visitors should be able to offer silent prayer ("...pickles onion...") to Jim Delligatti and the McDonald's Corporation.