Published 12:00 am Friday, January 28, 2011

By Mark Wineka
ROCKWELL — Sissy Cooper was in a crisis mode.
Not long after getting off her shift as store manager at the Rockwell McDonald’s, Cooper received a panicked call from fellow employee Martha Miller.
Get back to the restaurant quickly, Miller said. The McDonald’s field service manager was in the restaurant, and he wasn’t happy, Miller told her. “I thought I was in so much trouble,” Cooper said. “… I was shaking.”
But Miller’s call was only a ruse. While Cooper was gone, staff members decorated the McDonald’s and made room for friends and family to surprise Cooper with the news that she had won the restaurant chain’s prestigious Ray Kroc Award for store managers.
She’s part of an elite group. Only 1 percent of the McDonald’s managers in the country earn the Ray Kroc Award each year. In the Raleigh region of 736 stores, she is one of seven recipients.
Named for the late founder of McDonald’s, the award comes with a $2,500 check, trophy, pin and a trip to Chicago for a banquet and a chance to share some of her front-line experiences with top management officials in the company.
Cooper could hardly speak after she entered the restaurant Thursday afternoon to the applause and cheers.
“She’s figured it out by now,” husband Bobby Cooper said, moving toward her for a hug. “You’ve won the Ray Kroc Award, dear.”
Bobby Cooper is a longtime area supervisor for McDonald’s. The couple have been married for 10 years.
“I’m in shock,” Sissy said. A friend walked up, removed Cooper’s McDonald’s cap and placed a tiara on her head.
Bill Austin, owner-operator of the Rockwell McDonald’s, nominated Cooper for the Kroc Award, which measures both store performance and community involvement.
He said Cooper, who has been the restaurant’s manager since its opening in February 2008, is loyal to her customers and the business. He called her a real people person.
The Rockwell location, which has almost 60 employees, exceeded its $2 million projection in sales for each of its first two years. When Austin made his nomination, the store was 8 percent ahead in 2010 sales. She also did well in “mystery shop” scores, which were 94.2 out of 100.
Mystery shopping is a common business practice where stores are evaluated or “shopped” without its employees being aware.
From 2003 to 2008, Sissy was Austin’s manager for his Kannapolis McDonald’s, which saw sales increase from $1.7 million to $2.2 million.
“She has won awards before, but this is the elite (one),” said Austin, who also owns three McDonald’s restaurants in Salisbury.
Sissy Cooper, 51, has four children and 12 grandchildren, many of whom celebrated with her at the restaurant Thursday.
It was tough for Bobby and the rest of the family to keep the award a secret from her. Bobby had known for two weeks.
“I almost slipped a couple of times,” he said.
Sissy Cooper started working at McDonald’s 14 years ago as a biscuit-maker. She said if there’s a secret to her success as a store manager it’s that she loves her customers and looks forward to going to work each day.
She estimated that she puts in 60 to 65 hours a week.
Some of the Rockwell store’s community involvement includes sponsorship of a baseball team, tours for day care facilities, monthly bingo for senior citizens, coupons for firemen and law enforcement, an annual Easter egg hunt, raising funds for the Ronald McDonald House in Charlotte and participating with Ronald in two local holiday parades.
A member of the Rockwell Women’s League, she provides the restaurant as a meeting site each month.
Besides cards of congratulations, gift bags and a cake, Cooper received a couple of personal gifts from Bobby: a diamond and ruby ring and a pair of Elvis Presley sunglasses.
She is quite the Elvis fan — and it was a perfect gift Thursday.
For a moment at least, there was a whole lot of shaking going on.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.