Never mind a Big Mac - it was a big week for Gemma Caldwell when she started in her post for she turned 28 on May 26, the day after burger giant McDonald’s opened its new restaurant in the town, making it a double celebration for Gemma who’s the dual-lane Drive Thru’s first manager.
Gemma started working for McDonald’s when she was just 16. And now, after more than a decade of rising through the ranks, she’s in charge of the restaurant in the town she grew up in.
Not bad for someone who, initially, hadn’t her sights set on a career in hospitality.
“I found out that the McDonald’s in Ballymena was hiring, so I applied for – and got – a job there in 2010.
“They recognised I was good and wanted to promote me, so it wasn’t too long before I was a crew trainer – and that’s when I decided to give up childcare and focus completely on my career within McDonald’s.”
Gemma, an alumnus of Cambridge House Grammar School, Ballymena, told of how her career progressed quickly, becoming a Shift Manager after just 18 months.
“After another promotion, I spent several years as Second Assistant before moving to Antrim for the opening of the new store and a new role as First Assistant in 2018,” she said.
“So with Larne, this is actually the second time I’ve been there for the opening of a new McDonald’s.”
Gemma, who lives in Cullybackey with her partner, recalled how the popularity of the Antrim restaurant far exceeded expectations. “We knew there would be a lot of interest in it, but it was much busier than any of us thought so it was challenging,” she said.
“Antrim and Larne are owned by the same franchisee – Paddy Cusack – so this time we were able to get help from some of the staff from the Antrim store for the Larne opening, which was great.”
She is loving her new job as business manager and running the 80-seater Larne premises on a daily basis.
She said: “About 120 new local jobs have been created, I have a great team of people and I’m enjoying working with them. I also want to give team members opportunities for promotion early on in their career, like I had.”