Forget it, Jake, it’s Coontown.
When you order ice cream, you don’t want to hear “We’re out” or “It’s broken,” yet it has been happening so often across the United States in recent years that it became somewhat of a cultural meme that spawned considerable media interest. Reports indicate that up to a quarter of McDonald’s ice cream machines are not operational at any given time.
Ice cream sales make up 3% of total McDonald’s sales (over $22 billion annually), amounting to about a quarter of a billion dollars a year. If the company is losing out on roughly 25% of that, we have a $56 million question on our hands every year.
Media outlets looking to cover the story and capitalize on the “McBroken” meme published dozens of quite lousy pieces concluding that the extensive cleaning process and heat sanitization cycle are to blame for the machine’s maladies. I never bought that story for a few reasons. One thing that doesn’t add up with the “cleaning” explanation is why any restaurant would clean a machine while it is open, and how it could be true that ten to 25% of all working hours in them are dedicated to “cleaning.” Perhaps nobody wants to clean the machines, so they merely say that it is not working.
Then, in April 2021, a YouTuber named Johnny Harris uploaded a now-viral video with over nine million views titled, “The REAL Reason McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines Are Always Broken.” In this 30-minute exposé, Harris elaborates a new theory that has gained acceptance as the actual reason for the McDonald’s ice cream downtime. Harris explains that the manufacturer of the ice cream machines, Taylor, is to blame. Taylor is the industry standard and the same company that makes ice cream machines for most quick-service restaurants, and has been supplying the equipment to McDonald’s since 1956. The next time you see an ice cream machine, look for the manufacturer’s name. It’s probably a Taylor.
Harris posits that Taylor has made the machines intentionally onerous to operate so they can generate future revenue out of repair contracts. The theory is that Taylor deliberately makes ice cream machines that are always in need of service and are generally too complicated for restaurant workers to understand. Hence, they call Taylor’s service technicians, which keeps the company flush with cash flow. It’s an interesting theory, and the video hams it up. There are plenty of suspenseful cuts, long stares into the camera, and moments when you are supposed to be in shock as facts are uncovered, such as the long working history between McDonald’s and Taylor. Harris wants you to believe that corporate greed on Taylor’s end is to blame. In a way, Harris created the perfect scapegoat: shifting the blame from restaurant workers to shadowy business practices. People loved it, too. And it is entirely wrong.
There are some holes in this story as well…
Of all the outlets to cover the story, none of them got close to what I found, including The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, Mashed, Boston Globe, Wired, and Inc. Vice News almost got there; they had the proper dataset to solve the mystery, but they fumbled, as expected.
First, I had to dig back a couple of years to find an article I remembered seeing which confirmed something we already know: restaurants owned by blacks, in black areas, do not perform as well as those in “less diverse” communities. McDonald’s has over 200 black franchisees out of the 1,700 or so owners — enough to make the data statistically reliable. Stores that the black franchisees own an average of $68,000 net less per month than all franchise stores. That’s $816,000 per year, per store, lower than the chain’s average.
There are probably many reasons for this disparity. Some black franchise owners postulated that a lack of black leadership in the McDonald’s corporation is an issue. I’m not sure there is a connection. Another issue raised was that black owners tend to own stores in black neighborhoods, where costs are high and sales are lower. There is a notion that nebulous socioeconomic issues tied to things like “white privilege,” “white supremacy,” and “systemic racism” are to blame: i.e., blacks have less money as a whole to spend on fast food, therefore making the sales of black-owned McDonald’s restaurants lower. To the extent that socioeconomic forces are genuine and legitimate, I will say the issue is not systemic racism or white people, but sub-Saharan genetics.
One of the black franchisees was interviewed about his experience. He said “my stores are hellholes,” and lamented that they are robbed once or twice per month. His further comments revealed that his stores are often vandalized: people destroy the bathrooms and break the windows, and a murder had even taken place on the premises of one restaurant.
The murder in the McDonald’s reminded me of a grocery store in Atlanta called “Murder Kroger.” The Ponce de Leon Avenue Kroger earned that nickname by being the stage for many violent crimes. Some Kroger stores actually left black neighborhoods not far from where I live because their outlets there were the worst in the company, suffering from extreme shoplifting and security issues. After pulling out of these neighborhoods, the company was declared “racist” and blamed for contributing to “food deserts” in black communities. The stores were simply not profitable and not worth the headache to keep open. Although some argue there is a white supremacist conspiracy theory keeping blacks from having nice grocery stores in their neighborhoods, the black community itself runs them out of business through their behavior. As states and cities continue to decriminalize shoplifting, this trend will continue.
Another black McDonald’s franchisee said that his stores were among the worst in the company. They have low cash flows, serious staffing problems, and are often robbed. The black owners often blame McDonald’s corporate. Still, they did not seem to realize that their real gripe is with their own community and the behavior of their racial cohort. Part of the extra costs that the black franchises have to pay are for security, high insurance premiums, and constant repairs.
I interviewed a McDonald’s employee who works in a very “diverse” restaurant. He confirmed some of my theories and observations and added great additional insights. He mentioned that the restaurant where he works often has to repair bullet holes resulting from drive-by shootings in the street where they are located. Sure, racism could be blamed for the lack of sales in black stores in black neighborhoods, but one might also suggest that many people don’t want to put their lives at risk for a McFlurry or Big Mac.
With that information in mind, and knowing that demographics affects the rate of “broken” ice cream machines, we can draw further conclusions.
Ice cream machines do not know they are in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Thus, we can probably rule out the existence of “racist ice cream machines” that make a conscious decision to stop working so they can deprive black and Latinx communities of ice cream.
Here is where we intersect with the meta-story about journalism. The objective of journalism is no longer to inform the public, but to weave a story of their choosing into a larger tapestry. Here, we see that the mainstream media was not willing or capable of telling the full story. Millions of people reading and watching the dozens of articles and videos on the matter have been led to believe in a conspiracy theory about ice cream machines and corporate greed, when the reality — and much more plausible tale — is one of basic biological differences between groups of people.
Further, it’s possible, and perhaps even likely, that the current mainstream journalist class is made up of people entirely incapable of uncovering deeper truths and unwilling to process any information that might contradict a larger societal theme. Much like the black franchisees, I’m sure they found a way to blame anybody but those actually responsible.
As is the case with everything else in my “social capital anthology,” this isn’t an article about broken ice cream machines. This is about what happens to a society when even the base level of social functionality — the bare minimum standard required to have something that looks like a real society — cannot be met.
At some point along this trajectory, there will no longer be any upside rationalizations to be found. There will come a time when the people who cannot run the ice cream machine are not doing you a favor by making you choose better food options. There will come a time when the people who cannot run the ice cream machine are running things of a much greater importance. What will society look like when the person who is today a McDonald’s Assistant Manager who can’t or won’t ensure that the fries are hot is tasked with staffing air control towers or repairing bridges and roads? What happens when the worker who decided it “wasn’t his job” to clean the ice cream machine feels the same way about inspecting the brakes on your car? What happens when you very much need something to be done correctly, but everybody at the department in charge of whatever you need are those people who could barely keep an ice cream machine running for a full day?
How does that society look?
A very easy question for contemporary Americans to answer, most especially those unfortunate souls trapped in our urban hellholes. All they need to do is look out their window to see it crashing and burning all around them.
A lengthy excerpt from a lengthy article, of which you simply must read the all.