NOGALES, Ariz. — The new owners of the McDonald's franchises in this border town get it.
They understand that taking over the dynastic Canchola family shops means the community will expect more than sound business decisions.
"We've got some big, Ronald-size shoes to fill," said Gael Sylvia Pullen, who along with her husband, Mark, and their son, Angelo, assumed control of the three fast-food restaurants Saturday.
As news began to spread about the changing of the guard, the Pullens spent the past week in Nogales, meeting with staff members and city leaders, vowing to be as engaged in the community as their predecessors.
"We feel honored to be here," Gael Pullen said. "The Cancholas have a long legacy of love and commitment to the community."
The Pullens have been with McDonald's for 15 years — the past 12 years they operated three franchises in Cleveland, Ohio.
The opportunity to move to Nogales was appealing, Gael Pullen said.
They are originally from Southern California, she said, and accustomed to diversity. "When you look beyond the obvious — we are African American in a predominantly Mexican community — the hearts are the same."
This week, the Pullens will host a luncheon for community leaders to drum up ideas for a modified holiday party for needy children in Nogales the week before Christmas.
Timing of the sale made it impossible to have the huge Christmas Day party held by the Canchola family for the past three decades for children from Sonora, Gael Pullen said. But they intend to continue the tradition and have the party next year.
The family's three operations are on Mariposa Road; in the Wal-Mart store and the original McDonald's on Crawford Street by the U.S.-Mexico border.
That location, where the Canchola family broke ground in 1976, will be torn down and replaced with a bigger, upgraded restaurant in the next two years, Gael Pullen said.
"When it's done, everybody will be smiling," she said.
Reaction from employees to the new bosses has mostly been one of relief, Gael Pullen said.
"No. We didn't bring a busload of people to replace you," she told employees. "We don't have two horns and a tail. You're going to be fine."
The Pullens have been "working out of a box in the car" and have found a home in Sahuarita for now, Gael Pullen said.
Gael and Mark Pullen attended a Spanish-immersion class in Guatemala recently and are encouraging employees to speak to them in Spanish so they can practice.
"To us, you don't really know the hearts of people if you can't speak their language," Gael Pullen said. "I know people are curious about us and the circumstances with Mr. Canchola. We're coming with humbled hearts."
The Pullens plan to host a dinner and give the community an opportunity to honor José and Carmen Canchola, Gael Pullen said.
"You don't do what they've done for the past 30 years and then just walk off into the sunset."
"I know people are curious about us and the circumstances with Mr. Canchola. We're coming with humbled hearts."
Gael Sylvia Pullen, new co-owner of Nogales McDonald's franchises
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