ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Don’t ever make a disparaging comment about flipping burgers for a living within earshot of Gerry Gimelstob.

He’ll be quick to correct you, explaining that in his 21 years as a McDonald’s franchisee, he’s seen dozens of workers spin part-time jobs as cashiers and cooks into well-paid management positions with room to grow.

“One of the things that makes me very angry is when ignorant politicians say things like that,” said the Arnold man, a former college basketball coach who owns nine McDonald’s restaurants.

“Our average manager has been with us between 10 and 15 years –they started off as crew members, now they’re making very good salaries, with insurance and benefits. They’ve turned this into a career they’re very proud of.”

Gimelstob, 60, has become a passionate advocate for the fast food chain and its workers. Sitting in his McDonald’s in the Bay Ridge neighborhood south of Annapolis — the first one he bought with his wife, Sandy, in 1990 — Gimelstob ticked off a list of his employees who started working for him as teenagers and have now risen through the ranks of the business.

“I think people don’t understand that McDonald’s isn’t a dead-end job,” Gimelstob said.

He noted that on Tuesday, the restaurant chain planned to hire around 50,000 full- and part-time workers nationwide. In Anne Arundel County, McDonald’s was expected to hire about 80 people, spokeswoman Tyler Litchenberger said.

“A lot of our managers grew up in our restaurant — we’ve seen their kids grow up,” Gimelstob said.

Gimelstob has fostered a family atmosphere, longtime employees say.

“If you give him your all, he gives everything back to you,” said Shannon Hoover, a general manager who has worked for Gimelstob for nine years and at McDonald’s for 19 years.

Gimelstob, a Newark, N.J. native, graduated from the University of Rhode Island and spent decades coaching college basketball. He worked as an assistant coach at Indiana University and the University of Utah before taking over as head coach at George Washington University in the 1980s. He also spent a year as a talent scout for the New York Knicks.

Gimelstob’s former life as a coach has served him well in his career as a restaurant owner, longtime friend Joe Cox said. The Gimelstobs sponsored Cox when he was a midshipman at the Naval Academy two decades ago; now Cox owns two McDonald’s restaurants in Howard and Montgomery counties.

Gimelstob was the one who got him into the business, Cox recalled.

“He went into full-fledged coaching mode,” Cox said with a laugh. “McDonald’s is a people business — he’s been a realadvocate for the people and for the system of McDonald’s.”

After he left coaching, Gimelstob was working as a real estate agent in south Florida when he sold property to someone who had just bought a McDonald’s. Gimelstob began to research the company, and was intrigued by its philosophy.

For one thing, everyone who wants to buy a franchise must train for 18 months to two years — unpaid. During that training, prospective franchisees learn every aspect of the business, from how to cook every sandwich on the menu to how to wash the windows to how to do payroll.

No detail is too small, Gimelstob said.

“If you don’t know how to clean the windows, how are you going to teach somebody else how to do it?” Gimelstob said. “If they do it wrong, how are you going to correct them?”

After the training is complete, there’s no guarantee you’ll even get a franchise, Gimelstob said. But he said he wasn’t deterred.

“That made it very appealing,” he said. “I knew if you really worked hard, you’d have something special. You have to put in the time and the effort, and as someone who played sports, that really resonated with my wife and me.”

Once he finished training at a Florida McDonald’s and was accepted as a franchise owner, McDonald’s sent the Gimelstobs to Annapolis to open a restaurant in Bay Ridge.

“They try to match you up demographically,” Gimelstob said.

“We said we’d like to have a restaurant in a college-type of community, and they sent us here.”

It turned out to be a good move. Within five years, the couple had bought the McDonald’s on West Street, then one in Arnold. In addition to those three restaurants in Anne Arundel County, they also own six more locations around Baltimore and on the Eastern Shore.

“You have to learn how to develop people who work well with you, and to delegate,” Sandy Gimelstob said. “By the time we got the second McDonald’s … (Gerry) was able to understand that.”

Gimelstob admits he get “a little defensive” when people startdismissing McDonald’s as junk food and maintains there are plenty of healthy options on the menu. He’s happy to offer a tour of the food storage area to prove that everything’s fresh.

“Is it a good idea to eat a Big Mac every day? No, but it’s no different than eating fettuccine alfredo every day,” Gimelstob said.

He’s equally proud of the restaurant’s community outreach efforts. The Gimelstobs are supporters of the Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore, a charity that gives families with sick children a “home away from home” while they’re receiving treatment at hospitals.

They also frequently host fundraisers. On School Nights, teachers and parents come into the restaurant to work for the evening; 20 percent of the profits that night are donated back to the school.

“We feel like, this is where we live, so we want to contribute,” Sandy Gimelstob said.

Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md.,

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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