In 1978 Katia Dwarte was a teenager working in the first McDonald’s drive-thru in Australia.
This month she is celebrating 40 years with the company.
Now McDonald’s is rewarding her and her family for their contribution over four decades by offering them the opportunity to run the Wollongong Central store.
NSW franchise manager Clinton Smith said earlier this month the state manager presented Mrs Dwarte with a special award.
It recognised many things including the impact she has made on thousands of people she has worked with and employed over the last four decades.
Then two weeks ago McDonald’s approached her and husband Glenn Dwarte about running the Wollongong Central store in recognition of all they have done.
Mr Smith said the whole family enjoyed enormous respect.
“They have done an amazing job of developing and employing a significant number of people. They are doing some incredible things at the new Warilla restaurant. It is still under construction but I have no doubt it is going to be an amazing facility. And they do a great job at Warrawong and Shellharbour.”
During the handover on Friday it was also a chance for husband Glenn Dwarte to reflect on the start of his food career close to where it all began.
Mr Dwarte started working in his father Bill Dwarte’s Snacks Galore cafe on the lower level of Wollongong Central as a teenager in 1981.
The addition of the Dwarte’s fourth store in the region brings their Illawarra workforce to around 400 people.
And they are advertising this week for more than 20 new positions at their Warilla Restaurant that has just doubled in size and will fully reopen on July 14.
The Dwartes have spent $2.5 million on the complete upgrade which includes three Espresso machines to help meet demand and a drive-thru window especially for McCafe orders.
The couple referred to in the company as Mr and Mrs McDonald’s Wollongong have won every award there is to win in the global company.
And they have set new industry benchmarks with the way they run their businesses.
A large part of that is supporting the community and many charities.
The Dwarte’s have also achieved many firsts.
In Febraury 2013 Warilla was the first to introduce table service. And they have plans for another world first at Warilla soon.
But right now they are focussed on providing the best service possible to their customers in Wollongong Central, Stockland Shellharbour, Warrawong and Warilla which the Dwarte family has run for 25 years.
The Warilla and Shellharbour stores are managed by son John Dwarte and the Warrawong and Wollongong stores by his brother James.
Mr Dwarte said it was nice to be rewarded by the company in such a way.
After 40 years service Mrs Dwarte said she felt like she had made the right decision when she started as a 16 year old and she has never looked back.
“The company gave me the opportunity to grow and develop and I am really appreciative of that,” she said.
“McDonald’s has adopted the philosophy to be number one you have to think like you are number two. The company has never been complacent. It has always been progressive and always thinking about what it can do better. And I love working with young people. I could not have picked a better career path. I have never been bored. There is always something exciting and challenging to keep me motivated.”
Mrs Dwarte said she loved giving opportunities for other people to develop and grow.
“Your people are number one. We couldn’t do this without our people,” she said.
“The most rewarding aspect of what I do is when I run into people who have worked for me and thanked me for the opportunity I gave them. They recognise working in McDonalds has helped them achieve their goals.”
“I love that we are getting so many second generation employees. Their parents have worked for us and they are telling their children to come and work for us.”
Mrs Dwarte said before the opening of the new Warilla store on July 14 her first task was to improve the McCafe in Wollongong Central.
And she is really excited about at Warilla.
“The facility is going to be amazing. The playground is going to be amazing. It has four slides and a toddlers area that is separate from the bigger kids. The whole restaurant is state-of-the-art. We have zoned it. There is a cafe zone, there is a parents and kids zone and there is a teen zone.”