If it were 3 p.m. on any other Thursday during the year, the management and staff of McDonald's No. 6739 would be readying for the evening rush.

But on this Thanksgiving Thursday, the doors of the fast food chain's restaurant near 53rd Street and Cornhusker Highway were locked tight, the sizzle of its fryers silenced, and its drive-through sign dimmed.

The Big Macs and fries and apple pies could wait a few hours, said owner-operator Mohamed Rady.

Instead of guests, the dining room and play area were filled with employees, their families and friends, nearly 60 in all, for a traditional Thanksgiving feast with a Golden Arches twist.

"It's the perfect time to get together and say thank you," said Rady, who became the franchisee of the Cornhusker Highway McDonald's location and five others in the Lincoln area in 2016.

The Egyptian immigrant started for McDonald's as a part-time dishwasher in 1981.

Rady couldn't speak English at first, but he knew the language of hard work, he said, which opened more and more doors for him in the fast food chain with locations spanning the globe.

"I always dreamed to have my own restaurant," he said Thursday. "The opportunity finally came, and now I'm living the American dream."

It's a dream he hopes to share with others who put on the uniform and cap, like Erin Hall, who returned to Lincoln earlier this year after fleeing an abusive relationship in Texas.

"I had absolutely nothing," Hall said. "McDonald's was the first to hire me, and they brought me in as one of their own."

Less than a year later, Hall is learning the ins and outs of the business and the operations as a manager-in-training: "They saw potential in me I could never see," she said.

In 2019, Hall said she expects to get a key to the restaurant as a manager. The help up from a hopeless situation has given her the confidence to re-enroll in Southeast Community College.

Hall's godmother, Nedra Napue, who dined opposite her in a booth on Thursday, is also a McDonald's alum, having worked at other Lincoln locations for 15 years.

"It's nice to see McDonald's is still influencing lives and helping people," she said. "I'm glad to see Erin doing well and seeing them helping her and giving her a good opportunity."

Rady said he's also been able to help other immigrants like himself find their first jobs in America.

The Thanksgiving spread — in addition to staples such as turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy — featured biryani, a rice and vegetable dish, and aush, a hot vegetable stew, both common in the Middle East.

Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi and Spanish voices cut across the store Thursday evening, a global family celebrating an American holiday.

Unable to return to their home in northern Iraq following an invasion by the so-called Islamic State in 2014, Basima Mtro immigrated to Lincoln to join the largest community of Yazidis in the United States.

Mtro has worked at McDonald's for three years, in the kitchen, at the register and anywhere else she's needed, putting away her earnings, along with her wages from a second job at Wal-Mart.

Next year, she hopes to take the next step toward her own American dream: purchasing a home.

Rady lights up when she announces her plan, telling her, "I think you could and you should."

McDonald's gave Rady opportunity, he said, and supported him in his dreams. On Thursday, he told his employees he was blessed to support theirs as well.

"It's my obligation to give people an opportunity and a job where they can reach their dreams like I did."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.


Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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