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Mother-daughter are both lovin’ McDonald’s careers

LOVIN’ IT — McDonald’s owner/operator Twila Mezan of Weirton, right, and her daughter, Kara Morgan of Colliers, director of operations, enjoy working alongside each other as colleagues and as family. (Photo by Janice Kiaski)

FOLLANSBEE — Twila Mezan and her daughter, Kara Morgan, have a lot in common.

And that includes having ketchup in their blood and rewarding careers under “the Golden Arches.”

A Weirton resident, Mezan is the owner/operator of four McDonald’s – one in Follansbee, the others at Pittsburgh International Airport, on West Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh and in Imperial, Pa.

Morgan, a Colliers resident, serves as the organization’s director of operations and is on track to becoming a McDonald’s franchisee herself someday soon.

Like McDonald’s mother, like McDonald’s daughter – and they’re “lovin’ it.”

“I treasure the opportunity to show my daughter what it’s like to be my own boss,” says Mompreneur Mezan. “She and I have been close our entire lives, but working together and serving our communities is priceless.”

Notes Morgan, “I’m so proud to work alongside my mother to continue and grow our family business. We have respect for each other as colleagues, but the best thing about working together is that we do it as a family.”

But neither initially had McDonald’s on their radar as a defined career choice.

Mezan “fell into it;” Morgan grew up in it.

A native of Vanderbilt, Pa., a “very, very poor community” in Fayette County, Mezan studied health career administration at Penn State University, her goal to be a hospital administrator.

At college, she would meet her future husband, Richard “Rick” Mezan, whose father, Rich Mezan, was the original owner of the Follansbee McDonald’s that opened in 1988.

“Back when I was growing up, my father-in-law was a supervisor for an operator in Pennsylvania, and he used to come to the (Fayette) county fairs, and they would buy the beef,” she offered the small-world-kind-of story.

Mezan managed Dr. Nasser Emani’s practice in Steubenville but quit after she and Rick had started a family with the births of daughter Kara, then son, Ryan.

“I left because I had my children, and I’d come down here every day,” she said during an interview earlier this week at the Follansbee McDonald’s. Mezan pitched in to assist as her father-in-law had health issues and “my mother-in-law couldn’t do it alone here, so I said, I’m here every day – I might as well start to help you,” she said.

And that help extended to the Mezan children pitching in, too.

“I actually started here in 2000 so I have been with McDonald’s for more than 20 years,” Mezan said of a career switch that suited her.

“I loved it,” she said without hesitation.

“The people – that’s my thing. I love being around people. I love meeting people. I love interacting with the community, it’s all those things,” she said, adding how “devastating” the pandemic was to that facet of the job. “We couldn’t interact with anybody like we were used to. For me, someone who thrives on that dialogue back and forth, it was really hard. I was depressed not seeing customers.”

When COVID-19 first hit, the Follansbee business had a walk-up window. “Then when it kind of settled down in April, the beginning of May, we took down the window, and we opened our dining room back up again, and we stayed opened until mid-December, until Brooke County went off the charts and (we) put the walk-up window back up.”

Mezan got involved in McDonald’s Next Generation training program which allows franchisees the opportunity to bring their qualified family members into the business to build their own McDonald’s legacy. Her mother-in-law had become the owner of the Follansbee restaurant by then.

“We only had this store at the time, and I said you’re going to need to retire or I am going to need to find something for myself. I want to build my own career, and so she retired,” explained Mezan, who bought the Follansbee location. The following year brought an offer for additional restaurants – which meant going from having one to five to four locations in a one-year period.

“It was probably one of the most stressful times, that year of transition and buying the stores, because I was buying two off of McDonald’s and one off another operator. It was extremely stressful,” she said.

Mezan’s takeover of them found her relying heavily on help from her daughter, who was a student at West Virginia University and studying business management.

“She started out in engineering and came to us mid-way through and said, ‘Mom, dad, McDonald’s is where I want to be,'” Mezan said of Morgan’s desire to follow in her mother’s footsteps. “My daughter was still at WVU when I took these stores over – she was driving back from WVU on a daily basis to help me run the restaurants,” she added.

“My kids came up through McDonald’s,” Mezan said with a smile, explaining school delays or cancellations, for example, didn’t translate into time off for her children.

“They were working inside the restaurant, wiping off tables, bringing in trays, learning how to make food,” she said.

It was a family effort, one not especially liked by Ryan, who will graduate May 16 from medical school at WVU.

“Ryan’s thing was he never enjoyed it and hated every day of being here, but I grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, and you worked. This is how life is. Everything you want in life you had to work for it. It didn’t come for free,” Mezan said.

That kind of strong work ethic is a good quality for a mother to pass along to her children, agreed Mezan, who said she learned giving through the example set by her grandfather, a farmer.

“He would drop vegetables off on people’s porches every evening, and they’d wake up in the morning to find them because the community I came from was extremely poor. They didn’t have anything,” she said. “He was the most giving, wonderful man. He was the one who taught me to give back to the community and always giving 100 percent and doing your best at all times. He was someone who always said, you always should do what you do thinking someone is watching what you’re doing.

“You’re only as good as your word, and that’s how I raised them,” Mezan said.

Like her mother, Morgan appreciates the customers and community.

“The people who come in here, they turn into your family,” Morgan said. “The guys sitting back there, they’ve watched me grow up since I was a baby,” she gestured to a nearby table.

“The managers have been here forever – it creates a family environment. It’s not something you could easily leave without missing it,” she said.

“With McDonald’s, they say you have to have ketchup in your blood,” Mezan interjected.

“And I have the ketchup in my blood – I’m working on my application to get my own franchises,” explained Morgan, who graduated from WVU in 2017.

“The way the Next Generation program works I will take partial ownership of one of the restaurants until restaurants become available that I will be able to purchase on my own,” she explained.

“Hopefully, I will retire and sell her my stores,” Mezan said of the game plan.

“It’s through hard work you make it to where you are at McDonald’s because it’s a 365, seven-days-a-week job and you either have to love it or not love it, and if you don’t love it, you can’t sustain it. You work your way through and ones who love it like she does, the intention is to turn it over and make it a legacy for your child,” Mezan said.

“With that comes a lot of responsibility because if you’re a good operator and you have a good name, you’re only hoping that your child continues that legacy that you’ve created inside your community and that’s where we are,” she said. “We do amazing things for people around us because they take care of us. During COVID, a lot of businesses struggled. We were lucky — people stayed true to us. They’d stand at the line at the walk up window, they came through the drive-throughs, they checked on us,” she said.

“That’s your community caring as much about you as you do them.”

The job is a demanding one, but rewarding.

“You give to your community and your community will always give back to you,” Mezan said. “Some days we’re here at open (time) and we finish out our day at 10 o’clock at night.”

Morgan isn’t surprised to be following in her mother’s McDonald’s footsteps.

“It was meant to be,” she said. “When you grow up in it, it just comes naturally. Making the change in my major halfway through college, I don’t regret changing it because it’s good for me to be a woman in the business.”

Mezan said McDonald’s wants women operators and minority operators. “McDonald’s supports women,” she said. “They encourage women and they encourage Next Generation operators because you’re pooling from people who have lived the life of a McDonald’s person that wants that life.”

That she’ll be passing down a business makes Mezan teary.

“I get emotional when I talk about it — I rely so much on her, and it brings me great joy that she’ll be the one to emulate me and do what I do.”

A mother-daughter, employer-employee dynamic doesn’t always make for a rosy situation in the workplace, according to Mezan.

“When she first came in, it was hard to make that break, and when we went home, there would be some unhappiness that carried over from work, and it took a couple arguments to draw the line in the sand and say, look, it can’t leave the restaurants, it’s got to stay inside the building because if we bring it home, we’ll ruin our family and it can.”

As much as they love McDonald’s, they won’t spend Mother’s Day there.

It will be family time, though, and for Morgan, an extra special day as she marks her first Mother’s Day as a mom herself.

Morgan and her husband, Edward, have a 9-month-old son, Edward V.

“It’s exciting. He is the greatest blessing, and he is such a good boy. We enjoy him so much,” Morgan said.

Grandma Mezan does, too.

“He is a really good baby. He is not a crier — he is a happy soul,” she said.

“I’m hoping there’s ketchup in his blood.”

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)

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