The term family business may be the last thing many people associate with fast-food chains. But one Orlando, Florida, McDonald’s franchisee attributes her success to lessons she learned growing up in the business her father perfected twice over.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Marimar Velez was no stranger to the McDonald’s name by the time her father moved the family to Florida, when Marimar was only 13. In Puerto Rico her father had owned and operated a successful chain of 13 restaurants and would start again from scratch on the U.S. mainland.
With no initial plans to follow in her father’s footsteps, Velez eventually realized her vocation through her ongoing involvement in his franchise.
“My dad was just really tired and asked me to come and help,” she said. “I never truly intended to become an operator, and as I went by I just kind of became addicted to the business and everything that it offers.”
When Marimar Velez later established her own franchise company, Fide Foods LLC, her father shared all the wisdom he’d gathered as an owner-operator. But, believing that success comes from rising to meet challenges, there was one thing he wouldn’t share.
“Typically, when a second generation goes into purchasing new restaurants, their parents will lend them their equity to buy into the deal, which makes things a lot easier,” she said. “My dad gave me the challenge of saying, ‘No. You’ve got to go out into the world and find it on your own and truly make your banker believe that you are capable of doing this.’”
Since acquiring her very first restaurant, Velez has gone on to expand her franchise into a $21-million business spanning several locations. A primary focus throughout her career has been a desire to share her success, particularly by empowering other women. Ivonne Irizarry brought decades of McDonald’s experience to Velez’s team and now occupies an integral position as Director of Operations for all of Fide Foods.
“Ninety percent of our company is empowered business women,” Irizarry said. “Some are single, some are moms, some are single moms, some are married. She definitely understands and she knows the difference of how to deal with each one of our pieces of our team.”
As trusted partners, Velez and Irizarry have learned to rely on one another’s respective strengths as they navigate the many challenges of day-to-day operation.
“She’s a perfectionist,” said Irizarry. “So am I. At the beginning I wanted to do things my way. Now we know each other to the point where I know what she’s going to say and she knows what I’m going to say. We never have bad days together.”
One noteworthy challenge was the onset of the pandemic, when illness and quarantining strained the workforce across all locations.
“At times I would have seven to 14 people out per restaurant,” Irizarry said. “We’ve been blessed in the sense that our storms have happened differently at different locations, and one store has been able to help others out, because that’s the nature of this business. Especially this organization. It’s family. One store is down, that means the other restaurants also help out.”
By coming together, Fide Foods managed to prosper through the storm, and Marimar Velez hopes their continued growth will one day lend a well-valued weight to her voice within the company’s parent organization.
“In the McDonald’s system, to effect change you have to be a significant operator,” she said. “As you grow and people see your capacity to grow and sustain the growth, you become more highly respected in the system. I’d love to be able to affect the brand as it evolves throughout the years.”