Don't eat the exhibits

Mr. Delligatti was 49 when he concocted the Big Mac, spending a few weeks developing the special sauce. He said McDonald's headquarters was ""very cautious"" initially…

The Globe and Mail
August 25, 2007

Don't eat the exhibits
Museum opened to honour the Big Mac on its 40th anniversary
Cristina Rouvalis

Jim Delligatti wit the world’s largest Big Mac statue
20070825 Don’t eat

NORTH HUNTINGDON, PA. — Toronto has its Hockey Hall of Fame, Edmonton boasts the West Edmonton Mall, and now North Huntingdon, near Pittsburgh, is honouring another type of human achievement by turning the words "two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun" into a tourist destination.

Only time will tell how many visitors will flock to the McDonald's Big Mac Museum Restaurant here, where they can be photographed in front of a statue of the world's largest Big Mac (4.2 metres by 3.6 metres). Or how many tour busloads will crowd around the handcrafted walnut cases displaying the first Big Mac bun toaster and the contraption that now squirts out special sauce (a third of an ounce on both the top and bottom buns).

Or if amateur fast-food historians will recognize the various boxes that have wrapped up the Big Mac, the sinfully sloppy sandwich invented 40 years ago in Uniontown, Pa., by Jim (M.J.) Delligatti.

The idea for the museum, which opened this week, was dreamed up by McDonald's owner/operator Mike Delligatti as a tribute to his father, a local resident who, at 89, is going strong and going to work every day after decades of Big Mac consumption.

Considering its narrow niche - one fattening sandwich - the museum/restaurant has a lot of Big Mac memorabilia oozing out of its display cases. It features a high-tech worldwide Big Mac map and a chart of the foreign-currency values found in the Big Mac Index.

The index was created in 1986 by The Economist and spawned the term "burgernomics." The index's aim, says the magazine, was "to make exchange-rate theory more digestible" by measuring the real purchasing power of currencies by comparing the local costs of Big Macs around the world.

When you walk into the Big Mac Museum, you see a large photograph of Mr. Delligatti the elder. "We call him Big Mac Daddy," said Mike, whose family owns 18 McDonald's restaurants in Western Pennsylvania.

There is also a bronze bust of Mr. Delligatti, who is celebrating his 50th year as a McDonald's franchisee, and his beloved Big Mac. And the giant Big Mac statue sits in a state-of-the-art play area with jungle noises and animals painted on the walls.

Mr. Delligatti was 49 when he concocted the Big Mac, spending a few weeks developing the special sauce. He said McDonald's headquarters was "very cautious" initially before giving him the go-ahead. Corporate officials told him he could use only ingredients in the store - a single-sliced bun, instead of the double-sliced one he wanted.

"I tried to make the sandwich without the middle slice. But it was too messy," with the special sauce soaking through.

So Mr. Delligatti went out and bought a double-sliced bun for his double-decker hamburger and sold it for 45 cents in 1967 in his McDonald's in Uniontown.

It sold so well in Western Pennsylvania that McDonald's unveiled the Big Mac nationally in 1968 in silver-and-blue wrapping, and dubbed it "The Big Attraction." Mr. Delligatti had no idea it would sell 550 million a year in the United States today or be sold in 100 countries.

Contrary to popular belief, though, Mr. Delligatti didn't get a percentage of Big Mac sales or a big raise from his invention. But he has never tired of it. He still eats on average one Big Mac a week, and he likes gazing at the hulking statue of his sandwich in the Big Mac Museum. "To me, it looks beautiful."

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