For more than three decades, their restaurants have served up countless Big Macs, Quarter-Pounders, french fries, Chicken McNuggets, sodas and milkshakes to folks in McDowell and neighboring counties. Now, the owners of the McDonald’s restaurants in Marion and two other nearby towns are ready to turn their Golden Arches over to new proprietors.

On Wednesday, Chairman John Karas and President Bob Kelley of the K-21 Corp. of Marion sat down with The McDowell News to talk about their many years of doing business here. Based at 30 W. Court St., K-21 Corp. is the owner and operator of both McDonald’s restaurants in Marion and the one in Spruce Pine and the one in Burnsville.

The first McDonald’s in Marion opened on West Henderson Street in 1978. Karas said he came to Marion a few years later in 1985 and took over the ownership and operation of that fast-food eatery.

Kelley came to Marion in 1987 and he and Karas built the McDonald’s in Spruce Pine, which opened in November of that year. In 1994, they bought the one in Burnsville.

In July 1992, they opened Marion’s second McDonald’s on U.S. 70 at what was at that time the Walmart shopping center. It too proved to be successful.

Kelley also brought his son Ryan into the business as vice president and secretary of K-21 Corp.

Together, they have overseen a small company that is bringing good fast food and reliable service to three different communities. At one time, they had a total of seven restaurants, which included the ones in Old Fort, Newland and Banner Elk, but those were later sold.

Today, their four locations have approximately 250 employees.

Now, Karas and the Kelleys are ready to retire from the McDonald’s business. Starting Sunday, the four restaurants that they have owned and operated will come under the ownership of R&J Investments, which is based in Hickory.

R&J Investments, owned and operated by Heather and Patrick Joyner, has 22 McDonald’s restaurants in Burke, Mecklenburg, Wilkes and Avery counties.

“They are super nice people, very family oriented,” said Kelley of the Joyners.

Heather Joyner said to The McDowell News that her company will be a good fit for Marion and the other neighboring towns.

“I want the people of Marion to know we are small town,” she said. “We want to help the community. We want to help the schools.”

Joyner said she and her husband will keep those 250 employees in place.

“We really pride ourselves in being a part of the community,” she said. “I think our company will be a great fit for Marion. Our people are what make us special.”

She and her husband have five children: Maddie, 16; Sam, 18; Ann Carson, 14; Jeb, 7; and Shade, 8.

As they get ready to retire from the fast-food business, Karas and Bob Kelley said they will maintain their office at 30 West Court St. for the next several months as they tie up any loose ends. They plan to keep living in Marion.

Kelley’s son Ryan is keeping himself busy with the Asheville Soccer Club, where he is president and part owner.

They said they wanted to thank all of their loyal customers for their support.

In addition to serving up food and beverages, the McDonald’s restaurants owned and operated by K-21 Corp. has given many young people a chance at learning how to work and hold a job.

“The important thing we have found over the years is we like to think we are good employer,” said Karas. “We’ve dealt with hundreds and hundreds of kids as employees. We like to think we have instilled upon them a sense of responsibility and accountability. It’s been a good experience.”

And over the years, the K-21 Corp. has made donated thousands of dollars to the school system, McDowell Hospital, the Marion Police Department’s DARE program and other local organizations and causes.

“McDonald’s has allowed us, as Ray Kroc used to say, to put something back in the community,” said Kelley. “It’s been a good run.”

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