In the mid-1980s, a group of Levittown high school students began working part-time at their local McDonald’s, independently owned and operated by franchisee Jonah Kaufman. Although they had varied interests and traveled in different social circles, their on-the-job camaraderie allowed them to build unlikely friendships that extended beyond the confines of the Golden Arches and continue to stay strong 30 years later.
“Working at McDonald’s as a teen had a big impact on my life,” says Joe Beck, a lighting technician for Broadway productions, who worked at the Levittown restaurant from 1985 to 1989. “It was a great place to work, got to meet a lot of other people from the area.”
McDonald’s became much more than a workplace for Beck and his then-colleagues. From recording homemade music videos in the restaurant to playing in the company bowling league, “the Levittown crew” –as they called themselves– formed lasting bonds that continue to this day. Over the years, they have attended each other’s weddings, raised their children together and become an integral part of each other’s lives.
Much of the credit is given to Ed Miller, the McDonald’s general manager who hired them and gave them their first jobs. By creating a supportive atmosphere that encouraged collaboration, the disparate group of high schoolers learned they shared more similarities than differences. Under the guidance of Miller, the crew also learned valuable professional skills and life lessons they continue to apply in their daily lives.
“I just looked up to him. I looked up to him as a leader and as a manager,” recalls Tony Mazza, a cameraman at PIX 11 News, who worked for Miller from 1980 to 1989. “He created an amazing environment where we could work and do our best, but also be ourselves and have fun.”
In a career that spans over 50 years with the Kaufman franchisees, Miller has won numerous awards including the prestigious Ray Kroc Award, which recognizes the top 1% of McDonald’s restaurant managers in the United States. Today the father of two oversees the McDonald’s on Bay Shore where he is known by the locals as “Mr. McDonald’s.” He continues to stay in close contact with the Levittown crew and is visibly moved by the positive impact he’s had on their lives.
“To me, one of the greatest thrills is to see these young kids be successful,” says Miller. “It makes you feel good that you were a part of that — like it does with your own kids.”