McDonald's owner started by learning language
Mar. 2 2007
Weldon B. Johnson
Julián Nabozny knows what it's like to be a stranger in a strange land with a
Nabozny came to the United States from Argentina more than 30 years ago as a
teenager and settled in Chicago. He didn't speak English and didn't understand
the customs and culture of his new home.
He recently shared his story with students at an Ahwatukee teacher's adult
education English language class at Tempe High School. He told them how he
realized he would have to adapt if he wanted to be successful. And that meant
immersing himself into the American culture and language.
"When I came to the United States, there was no Spanish TV, no (Spanish) radio,
no (Spanish) newspapers," said Nabozny, 54. "So I had to force myself to learn
English. I grew up in Chicago at the time when there were very few students in
school who spoke Spanish. So within two years I learned English.
I listened to English radio, I read English newspapers."
He not only mastered English, but went on to college and became a high school
social studies/history teacher in Chicago. When that field didn't prove
lucrative enough, he went into business for himself.
Nabozny, a Phoenix resident, started with a McDonald's restaurant in Chicago in
1983 but now owns five in the Valley - four in south Phoenix and one at 32nd
Street and Shea Boulevard.
Ahwatukee resident Jack Singer teaches the class Nabozny visited. In one
respect, his story is the opposite of Nabozny's.
Singer had an interest in Latin American culture and visited Argentina for the
first time in 1997. At that time Singer spoke no Spanish and told his wife that
he wasn't going to return until he learned the language.
Singer just started teaching the English language class this semester and
thought Nabozny's story would be a good one for his students to hear.
"I want him to talk to the students about how he came to this country and how he
ended up," Singer said. "His story is a dream come true."
Nabozny's transition from teaching to restaurant owner took 3 1/2 years.
He responded to an ad placed by McDonald's in a Chicago Spanish-language
magazine looking for minority restaurant owners. He had no training in business
at the time, but was willing to learn and after an extensive interview process
was accepted into a company training program.
For the next 3 1/2 years he learned the McDonald's way from the ground up,
working in various restaurants in Chicago. Upon completing that program, the
company loaned him the money to purchase his first franchise with the agreement
that he repay the loan within five years.
He paid it back in three.
He addressed the students in Singer's class in both Spanish and English,
stressing to the importance of being prepared to take advantage of the
opportunities they may have.
"Everybody gets one opportunity," Nabozny said. "This is the greatest country in
the world because you're going to have an opportunity in life.
But if you're not ready, . . . somebody else is going to get it, not you. So you
must be ready with a good command of English.
"Those who speak English and Spanish are the ones who are going to be chosen for
that job. Those who speak Spanish and only a little English, they're going to
tell you, 'Come back tomorrow.'"
To help ensure that his Spanish-speaking employees are ready to take advantage
of their opportunities, Nabozny encourages managers who are bilingual to coach
"We want to help them develop," Nabozny said. "They need a good grasp of
He said classes such as Singer's provided an excellent opportunity for those
willing to learn. In a classroom setting the students have an opportunity to
make mistakes, without the pressure of having to deal with customers or
In a business environment, mistakes can be more costly.
"If somebody is going to pay $100 and you give them change for $40, there's
going to be a problem," Nabozny said. "So they have a great advantage here in a