North Dakota man celebrates 40-year career at Burger King

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal

MINOT, N.D. (AP) — He remembers when he started working. It was May 30, 1977. He was 16 years old. Dan Olson turned his first job into a good career. Today he can still be found behind the counter greeting customers at Minot's Burger King.

The South Broadway Burger King opened in 1976. It was a hit with Minoters from the start. Not only did the nationally known restaurant feature a drive-up window and a menu perfectly suited to hungry customers, it was a cool place to be.

"There were lots of young kids from the high school," Olson told the Minot Daily News. "It was such a hang-out for the first 10 years with tons and tons of kids here. That's part of the reason I started to work here. It was really a fun group of kids, young people."

So, at just 16 years of age, Olson was hired at Burger King about a year after it opened. The pay was $2.20 an hour, not bad for a young worker in 1977.

"I had big plans for all that money," laughed Olson when asked about his early days at Burger King. "Times are different now. It seemed like $2.20 went a long ways back then. I had spending money, gas money and money to do stuff with."

Olson proved to be a good and reliable worker. Flexible scheduling allowed him to participate in school sports and still maintain some hours at Burger King.

"That's one of the reasons I've stayed here so long," said Olson. "I was permitted to work around all activities. That's one good thing about working, especially when you are young. Owner Don Hummel is one of the main reasons I'm still here. He is a family-oriented type guy. He understands. You have to like working here and respect the people you work under. They've been real nice and kind to me."

Olson met his future wife at Burger King in 1978. In 1980 he was promoted to manager. Today he is general manager of the South Broadway store. He learned the job from the ground up, including many days of sweeping and mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms.

"I did a lot of that," said Olson. "It's amazing how fast the years go by."

The father of five is known for his pleasant demeanor. He is polite to co-workers and customers.

"I am a true believer in that, especially with the people you work with," said Olson. "You get frustrated sometimes but, all in all, I come in with a smile on my face. You have to let the bad experiences go."

When Burger King opened in Minot the menu was much smaller than it is today. Customers could choose from the trademark "Whopper" or maybe a fish sandwich, the "Whaler." There was a "Yumbo" too, a ham and cheese sandwich. French fries, onions rings and shakes were on the menu, but little else. Whopper Wednesday's, when Whoppers sold for as little as 99 cents, were a huge hit with customers.

"It was so simple," recalled Olson. "Look at our menu today. We've got five or six different chicken sandwiches, all sorts of shakes, burgers and breakfast starting at 7 a.m."

In addition to an increasing and changing menu, several other notable changes have happened during Olson's 40-plus years at Burger King. Several remodeling projects have taken place at the South Broadway location. Inside seating remains but, with today's busy lifestyles, the drive-thru window accounts for up to 70 percent of the business.

The age of employees is much different today than it was when Olson started. There's still some young workers but with a strong mixture of older employees.

"My assistant manager has been here 25 years. I've got three long-termers with over 20 years," said Olson. "They are so loyal. They will work with you and for you."

There's no doubt that working with Olson is a big reason that some employees have stayed on the job. His laid back but professional demeanor goes a long ways toward creating a comfortable work environment.

"You get out of a job what you put into it," said Olson.

Olson has put a lot into his work and has been rewarded for his efforts. He has set an example for others to follow. One of his favorite times is when regular customers arrive at Burger King at their predictable hour. For one group of regulars he makes sure that there's plenty of coffee ready to serve.

"It makes it fun. It's nice to see them every day," said Olson. "I've always enjoyed people and customers."