Cheeseburgers cost a quarter, the Egg McMuffin was a brand-new menu item and Happy Meals were still four years from introduction when Yolanda Sabatini donned her first McDonald’s uniform in 1975.
Back then, she had no idea she would spend her whole career with McDonald’s – and no idea that two generations of family would be born through connections made under the golden arches.
Last week, after 47 years with the company, Sabatini, 65, hung up her hat and retired from the Canton Township McDonald’s on Ford Road just west of Sheldon.
“McDonald’s is the only place I ever worked,” Sabatini said, noting orders were hand-written and added on paper when she worked those first shifts fresh out of high school. “I was so frustrated after the first two weeks that I wanted to quit. But I said, ‘Nope, I’m going to keep going,’ and six months later I was promoted to manager.”
Although she’s worked at about 10 local McDonald’s locations over the years, Sabatini’s longest stint was at the store on Ann Arbor Road in Plymouth, where she was employed from 1984 to 2013, before landing at the Canton Township location nine years ago.
Originally from Australia, Sabatini – then Yolanda Groenewald – came to the U.S. with her parents when she was 8-years-old. Her parents bought a home in Garden City, which Sabatini and her husband Ken still live in today.
The couple met in 1981. At the time, Ken Sabatini was an assistant manager who also did maintenance at McDonald’s, while Yolanda worked what was then known as the “all night close.”
“The two of us were basically locked in the building all night to clean the whole place,” she said. “But there was no dating at that point; we were just friends at first.”
Later, he asked her out. They had a date on Valentine’s Day in 1982 and were married the following year. Their oldest child, Andrea, was born in 1985, followed by Kimberly, then Christopher.
With three kids at home, her job as McDonald’s swing manager allowed Sabatini the flexibility to work opposite her husband, who by then was working at the airport – sometimes on days, sometimes at night.
Years passed and Sabatini’s children followed in her footsteps. When Andrea turned 15, she got a job working beside her mom at McDonald’s. Later, Kimberly and Christopher were also hired. At one point, they all worked together.
“It was fun working with them,” Sabatini said. “Sometimes, they would all be in the grill working together while I was up front. If people didn’t know they were my children, they wouldn’t have known, because I treated them like any other employee.”
For example, she recalls, Andrea once wanted to take a weekend off to go with her friends to camp.
“I said, ‘If you can get your shift covered, you can go.’”
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Like her mother before her, Andrea – now Andrea Markwood – also met her future husband while they were both working at McDonald’s.
“That will always be special to me,” said Markwood, who lives in Plymouth with husband Russ and their two young children.
With staffing shortages plaguing businesses everywhere over the past few years, Sabatini said she’s been working upwards of 60 hours a week recently.
Evelyn Crawford, general manager at the Canton McDonald’s, said she’s never worked with an employee more dedicated than Sabatini.
“It’s been a crazy couple of years with the pandemic,” Crawford said, noting she and Sabatini have worked together since 2015. “She never shies away from hard work; she’s always a team player and always does so many extra things to help out. I wish she would stay longer.”
“I’ll miss her,” she added. “You just don’t see a lot of people like her anymore.”
Sabatini said she would miss her friends and customers at McDonald’s, too. Now that she’s retired, she and Ken, also retired, will be spending more time with her five grandchildren.
Other than that, anything is possible.
Contact reporter Laura Colvin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-221-8143.