CHICAGO — Chicago is now the official home of the Golden Arches.
McDonald's unveiled its new $250 million headquarters building in the Fulton Market district Monday, a move that is part of the burger giant's yearslong effort to both lure new customers and attract top talent living in the heart of the city.
McDonald's, which has been based in Oak Brook since the early 1970s, spent the last month slowly bringing its 2,000 corporate employees from its forested suburban campus to the modern nine-story building in the neighborhood also known as the West Loop.
The headquarters building has cement floors, metal and glass accents throughout and amenities that would remind one more of an Apple store than a corporate headquarters. McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook said that's exactly the point: to have a building that reminds employees everyday to be creative and think outside the box _ a quality that Easterbrook has admitted the company didn't do enough of in the past. Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Studios once stood on the site McDonald's now occupies, but there are no visible reminders of the property's former use.
Instead of a ribbon cutting, Easterbook, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others who spoke at a brief dedication ceremony Monday morning pressed a virtual button on a projection screen, meant to mimic the kiosk ordering process available in thousands of McDonald's newly renovated U.S. restaurants, including the restaurant on the ground floor of its new headquarters. That restaurant has a traditional McDonald's menu with the addition of a handful of international menu items that will rotate about every three months, operator Nick Karavites said.
The second floor is occupied by Hamburger University, the company's training program for managers. The program was founded by Fred Turner, who rose from grill man to McDonald's senior chairman, in the basement of a restaurant in Elk Grove Village in 1961. Turner's daughters attended the opening event.
The third floor houses the test kitchens, where McDonald's develops new sandwiches, sauces and other items. Floors four to eight are occupied by the corporate staff, and feature a mix of cubicles, benches, bars and other seating areas that are unassigned; instead they are reserved by employees on a first-come, first-served basis each morning.
A few executives have offices on the ninth floor, but those spaces are considerably smaller than they were at the Oak Brook headquarters, said Robert Gibbs, McDonald's chief communications officer.
Gibbs said the open seating plan is already allowing for more communication and less time wasted scheduling meetings, because employees are moving around and able to have impromptu conversations. Technology is also making McDonald's employees' jobs easier, he said. The new space has about 300 conference or smaller "huddle" rooms, each equipped with video presentation capabilities; Oak Brook only had a few areas capable of presenting video, he said.
The very modern building includes some nods to the past. A display of hundreds of Happy Meal toys decorates one entryway, and a small museum that includes a replica of one of the company's earliest restaurants, original uniforms and a Multimixer, the appliance Ray Kroc sold to the restaurant's original founders, the McDonald brothers, sits next to the entrance of Hamburger University. Key figures from the burger chain's beginning, including Kroc, are honored in entryways.
Easterbrook said he has already felt a new "energy" in the space and said he believes that the building is the key to staying "closer to customers, closer to competitors and closer to trends."