This story was created in partnership with McDonald’s.
Right now, 20% of Greater Indiana McDonald’s restaurants are owned by women entrepreneurs, and across Indiana, 10 female franchisees are leading some of the most successful McDonald’s restaurants in the state. We spoke with three of these trailblazing female operators—Nicole DiMichele, Alison Kosanovich, and Vanessa Moore—to hear their tales of rank climbing and inspiration within one of America’s most recognizable brands.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Vanessa Moore of Knightstown is a first-generation operator who purchased her initial franchise after her husband retired from the NFL. You might assume that as a former football player’s wife, Moore would be less involved in day-to-day operations, but the truth is quite the opposite. “I am a hands-on operator, and I love it. I typically start off around six o’clock in the morning; I want to get there before the breakfast rush,” she says.
Alison Kosanovich’s path to the Golden Arches began after her parents immigrated to America from China and she watched them start their own business. “I was born and raised in a restaurant. In my dad’s dry storage area, he had these big bales of rice and he covered them, making them into a bed for me. He always had a pillow in his car and even set up a cable TV, so I would be in there with the door closed while I watched TV,” she shares.
After growing up in the food industry, Kosnaovich gravitated towards a culinary career, however, after a few semesters in school, she decided to switch tracks towards the hospitality industry. “I transferred to Kendall College in Chicago and got my food and beverage management degree. After graduating in 2008, I went to work for several large conglomerate restaurants, and then that’s where I met my now-husband, Blake, who is a second-generation operator for McDonald’s.” Alison, her husband, and her in-laws now operate several franchise locations in Greater Indianapolis, including in Noblesville, Westfield, Cicero, Kokomo, New Castle, and Tipton.
Marion’s Nicole DiMichele is also a second-generation operator. “My parents bought their first restaurant the year that I was born in St. Louis, Missouri,” she says, adding, “I was born into this business. They had a little pack ’n play in the back room, and they would take me with them to work. McDonald’s is where I learned how to count money by working in the cash booth, and I gained a strong work ethic from my parents by being brought up in McDonald’s.”
When it came time to start her own career, DiMichele explains that “it was a really natural transition because it was something that I was always familiar with. It was also something that I always wanted to do. I’ve always had a big passion for this brand.”
THE PATH TO OWNERSHIP
Though DiMichele is a second-generation operator, and Kosanovich is married to a second-generation owner, both women had to follow in the same footsteps that someone new to McDonald’s would—and that Vanessa Moore also did. Moore explains: “McDonald’s is a restaurant business that’s really different because you just can’t purchase a bunch of restaurants. McDonald’s intentionally trained me to become an owner/operator through Hamburger University.”
Hamburger University only opens its doors to high-potential restaurant managers, mid-managers, and owner/operators specifically in restaurant management, and the intense training program is incredibly difficult to get accepted into. “A lot fewer people get into Hamburger University than Harvard. That’s a fact,” DiMichele says.
It is a feat in and of itself to get admitted, but many graduates also hope to share what they learn with other team members with the goal that they will also eventually be accepted into the training program. DiMichele explains, “When I am able to help people make it to that point, not only am I happy for them, but I take a bit of pride in it, too, because once you reach that level, you can become a restaurant manager and then a supervisor. If you don’t want to stay within McDonald’s, a degree from Hamburger University carries weight in other industries, too. Every class taken through McDonald’s is also a college-accredited class.”
EMPOWERED WOMEN EMPOWERING OTHERS
These three women have shown tremendous fortitude by graduating from Hamburger University and continuing on the path to ownership—and they all want to help others follow in their footsteps.
For Moore, part of what she hopes to do is mentor those younger workers who are just entering the workforce. “You get a lot of teenagers coming into the business, and most do not even know how to hold a broom,” Moore says. “You really kind of start them from ground zero, and you’re able to put that nurturing piece into the business. And that’s the part I love about it the most: You’re able to impact a lot of younger people in their first job.”
DiMichele leans into the nurturing aspect of mentoring as well: “My favorite part is being able to mentor and develop young people. That’s really what I’m an advocate for. So, I love hiring first-time workers, kids that are in school, or college students, because we have an accessible tuition assistance program. When people come to work for us, we have this entire program to aid in their tuition and education.”
McDonald’s not only focuses on the steps ahead for its team members, but also helps to close gaps they may have missed in the past. “We have this program called ‘Archways to Opportunity,’ and one branch of this program is to help people that did not get their high school diplomas. What separates us from other industries doing something similar is that we help people get their high school diploma rather than their GED,” DiMichele explains, adding, “The fact that we go above and beyond to do that, just really makes me love being able to motivate and encourage people to be the best that they can be to help them create careers—even if it’s not at McDonald’s.”
And the opportunities for personal growth aren’t just for those starting out in the industry. Within the McDonald’s community, there is also a space for female entrepreneurs to connect with each other called the Women Operators Network (WON). DiMichele explains that the WON is “a really strong, amazing community filled with a diverse group of women. We support one another, and we advocate for financial success, and for our ladies in leadership.”
THE BEST IS YET TO COME
Looking ahead to the future, each woman shared what goals they have set for themselves and their teammates as they continue forward with their careers. For Kosanovich, it’s officially becoming an owner/operator on her own apart from her husband’s franchises. “Hopefully this year I get the beautiful stamp of approval from McDonald’s, and from there, we’ll continue to grow our organization. I want to see my people grow and develop into bigger and better people, and I want them to take my spot as Director of Operations, because without them, I would definitely not be where I am today.”
For DiMichele, her future plans involve growing her business: “Oftentimes people see the arches and they just think, ‘Oh, that’s some corporate giant.’ But no, not really. We are a small family business, and I would love to acquire more restaurants in the future and continue growing in any way that I can.”
Moore not only aspires to grow her business, but to “impact young ladies so they know that it is not impossible to become an owner/operator.” She says: “I tell my employees that wherever you go, there are going to be challenges, but never alter what your ultimate goal is for yourself. And never let someone tell you that you can’t do something—because you actually can.”
During the day, Arianna Cruz can be found creating community connections and dreaming up marketing strategies with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana. She moonlights as a magazine founder and the owner of MORE Magazine, Making Opportunities Reachable for Everyone. Chat intentionality with her by connecting on LinkedIn.
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