Unofficial McDonald's Museum – San Bernardino, California - Gastro Obscura
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San Bernardino, California

Unofficial McDonald's Museum

This unlicensed collection of fast food memorabilia sits on the site of the first ever McDonald's restaurant. 

According to the McDonald’s Corporation their first location is officially located in Des Plaines, Illinois, the location of the actual first restaurant started by the McDonald brothers is now home to an unauthorized museum owned by a fried chicken chain that offers decades worth of run down relics from the fast food giant’s history.

Dick and Mac McDonald opened their eponymous San Bernardino barbecue restaurant in 1940 complete with sandwiches, shakes, and carhops. As their business began to grow they realized that their best-selling item was the hamburger, and that their clientele did not care to stick around when they were finished eating. It was these two realizations that sparked the fast food model most of us are familiar with today. The business was eventually purchased by Ray Kroc who turned the McDonald’s restaurant chain into the corporate juggernaut it is today, and the McDonald’s brothers’ original restaurant was completely forgotten. Almost. 

The original restaurant building was demolished in 1971 and the site began to fade into history, finally being foreclosed upon in 1998. At that time, prominent businessman, active philanthropist, and Inland Empire personality Albert Okura, owner of the lauded rotisserie chicken chain Juan Pollo, two other local museums, and the town of Amboy, CA, purchased the site. Okura had always been a huge fan of McDonald’s, and cites the chain as his inspiration to go into fast food.

Okura moved Juan Pollo’s corporate headquarters to the site, and built a new building where the restaurant once stood to serve as a museum, right next to the original sign. Okura filled the space with toys, signs, old play place equipment, fiberglass statues, and any McDonald’s related, even assembling the world’s largest collection of pre-Kroc McDonald’s memorabilia. He then opened the doors as a museum. Today, the museum boasts an excellent collection of memorabilia from the motion picture “The Founder,” the story of Ray Kroc and the McDonald’s brothers, as well as collections of McDonald’s promo swag from around the world.

But the McDonald’s Corporation has never taken too kindly to the arches on this property. McDonald’s forced the McDonald’s brothers to change the name of their original restaurant when they left the McDonald’s company, and then opened up a competing licensed McDonald’s across the street. Years later, they sued Albert Okura and the Unofficial McDonald’s Museum for the use of the McDonald’s trademark, despite the museum being run on donations and serving to foster a sense of pride in the community. Today, the collections have only grown and improved, and the museum continues to flourish.