PLEASANTVILLE — When Bob Traa opened his first McDonald’s restaurant, hamburgers were 15 cents, fries and drinks were 10 cents, and the whole menu offered just nine items.
One thing back then, though, is oddly the same 50 years later: catastrophic storms. The opening of Traa’s restaurant in the Pleasantville Shopping Center was delayed a few days by the storm of 1962, which, like Sandy, flooded the region.
The storms form bookends on five decades in which Traa Corp. owned and operated as many as 14 McDonald’s restaurants in the region, set records for sales, and positioned Bob Traa for major charitable work.
Traa, of Linwood, first noticed the then-new McDonald’s concept in the early 1960s while working at a bank in Allentown, Pa. From the deposits he received from the company’s 39th store there, he could see the restaurant was doing very well.
With financial backing from his father and uncle, Traa started work on getting a franchise and was a member of the 10th class to graduate from McDonald’s Hamburger University.
McDonald’s offered him a franchise for Anderson, S.C., but he passed on it and the next opportunity was for Pleasantville.
“Since we could get in the car and drive here in a couple of hours, we could see where we were going,” he said. “And my parents had celebrated their honeymoon at Haddon Hall and we used to come to Atlantic City for summer trips.”
Traa opened his first McDonald’s on March 13, 1962, raising the famous golden arches for the first time in the area at the prominent Black Horse Pike location.
By the end of the year, he had also joined the Army Reserve and married Brenda. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in December.
But it wasn’t until 1969 that Traa’s company, now joined by uncle Louis Traa and cousin Richard “Rick” Traa, opened its second restaurant, in Northfield. When the third opened in Wildwood a few years later, it made waves at McDonald’s Corp.
“The Wildwood restaurant set sales records for the company for a day, a week and a month. We had them all,” Traa said. “I’d get a call every day from (McDonald’s founder) Ray Kroc, and he didn’t know where Wildwood was and couldn’t understand how we were doing that much business.”
Working with his cousin, Bob Traa grew the company until it had 14 McDonald’s restaurants throughout Atlantic and Cape May counties.
“It was just too much work, so we sold some off so my partner, Rick, could retire, and then my daughter and I became partners,” Bob Traa said.
Today, he and Karen Traa, also of Linwood, own and operate six area McDonald’s restaurants: in Somers Point, Absecon, two in Mays Landing, Egg Harbor City and Pleasantville, which has moved across the pike to the Sam’s Club shopping center.
Traa said his most satisfying memory, what he feels best about from his long career, is of his involvement in the creation of Ronald McDonald House.
“I was fortunate at the time to be president of the Philadelphia Advertising Cooperative for McDonald’s, and the Eagles came to us with a plan,” he said. “A partnership between the Eagles, the Children’s Hospital and the operators in the Philadelphia region got behind the project and got Ronald McDonald House started in Philadelphia.”
The restaurant operators donated the proceeds from the sale of Shamrock Shakes and the first Ronald McDonald House opened in 1974 in Philadelphia. Today, the charity benefits the health and well-being of children globally through more than 300 Ronald McDonald Houses.
That whetted Bob Traa’s appetite for charitable work, which he combined with what he calls his ardent love of fishing to found the Faro Blanco Invitational Tarpon Tournament in the Florida Keys each year. Last year’s 26th tournament raised $40,000 for the Ronald McDonald Summer Camp.
Fishing provided another McDonald’s highlight several years ago when Traa spent two weeks fishing Australia’s Great Barrier Reef with then McDonald’s Chairman Fred Turner.
“That was unforgettable,” Traa said. “My life with McDonald’s has included so many things I never dreamed I’d be able to do.”
He said he still enjoys work too much to retire yet.
Success with McDonald’s requires keeping the restaurants fresh and modern, so four years ago the firm tore down the Absecon store and rebuilt it with plusher seating, entertainment and a new look.
Later this year, the Traas plan to do the same major remodeling for the restaurant at the Festival at Hamilton, near the Walmart in Mays Landing.
Contact Kevin Post:
Locations: 776 Black Horse Pike, Pleasantville. McDonald’s restaurants located in Somers Point, Absecon, Pleasantville, Egg Harbor City and two in Mays Landing
Owners: Bob Traa and daughter Karen, both of Linwood
Revenue: Not disclosed