For many in the inaugural 1973 crew at the Farmingdale McDonald’s, work was more than just flipping burgers and mopping floors.
The joking and bantering that helped the mostly teenaged workers pass the time forged bonds that have lasted to this day. At least six marriages and countless decades-long friendships formed, said one of the early employees, Al Cappellino, 58, of Farmingdale.
But many of the co-workers lost touch, so Cappellino organized a reunion. On Sunday, about 30 former 1970s employees — most from the inaugural group — will gather at a Farmingdale restaurant to share stories and catch up.
“I didn’t go to my high school reunion or my college reunion,” said Denise Bundow, 58, who flew in from Seattle for the event. “This is the first one I ever wanted to go to, just because we connected and built this incredible bond.”
When Irv Klein opened the Farmingdale McDonald’s on Route 109, his workforce was — except for managers — almost entirely teenagers, former employees said. The restaurant was his third McDonald’s franchise on Long Island, said Josh Kaufman, Klein’s grandson and the third-generation owner of what are now 14 area locations. Klein, 85, is retired and living in Florida.
Former workers recalled Klein as an owner who treated his employees well, providing money for college and allowing students struggling with grades to do homework on company time. That helped create a positive atmosphere that spurred the formation of so many friendships and romantic relationships, said Ed Miller, 62, who worked with his future wife, Marybeth, in Farmingdale and has been with McDonald’s for 47 years, today as general manager of the Bay Shore location. The couple live in Northport.
On days off, the teenagers who spent hours together at work would get together again.
“We’d close the store and go out after work,” Cappellino said. “We’d go to the diner, we’d go bowling together, we’d have parties.”
Kathy Roberts, 57, met her future husband, Warren Roberts, at the Farmingdale McDonald’s.
She was a crew member, working at the register and making shakes and fries. He was a crew leader. After they started dating, Warren Roberts, 59, would “make me mop the floors because he didn’t want to show favoritism to his girlfriend,” she recalled. “He gave me all the bad jobs.”
Working at McDonald’s helped build work skills — such as teamwork and customer service — that have helped the couple in their careers, Kathy Roberts said.
The couple moved to Maryland in 1984 and long ago lost contact with their former co-workers. Cappellino sent the reunion invitation to an address where the two haven’t lived for 23 years. But, coincidentally, a co-worker of their son now lives in that house and passed on the invitation to him.
“We felt we were meant to go to this,” Kathy Roberts said.
Cappellino said it’s not too late for former Farmingdale McDonald’s employees to reconnect. Anyone who worked there from 1973 to 1978 should email him at email@example.com.