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THE EATBEAT: Greater Grand Forks McDonald's restaurants offer fun fast food

If you read the Wall Street Journal or USA Today, you might be worried about the future of McDonald's. If you zip around greater Grand Forks on a cold January day, the McDonald's restaurants seem alive and well.

In the past couple weeks, I have visited all four McDonald's restaurants in Greater Grand Forks.

My first visit was to McDonald's on S. Washington Street, where I ordered a senior coffee for 47 cents one morning. And with it I had a sausage egg McMuffin. That was $2.99 and a whopping 370 calories. You know you have eaten, and I like the combination. The coffee, which is McDonald's brand, was strong and not too hot.

This is one of the several places around the Forks where coffee drinkers gather to exchange the news of the day. They start clearing out mid-morning. Then people with small children trickle in to use the only McDonald's playground left around here.

The weather was biting cold on another day. I decided to go into the McDonald's near Columbia Mall -- a busy place where the line at the drive-up window often is longer than the smattering of people inside. Still, this place is open all night so that customers can drift in before going to bed.

My trail through the McDonald's restaurants took me to East Grand Forks, where I ordered a medium-sized low-fat latte. I got quick service and paid $3.18. I collect the little cards that come on the lattes in order to get a free one after the fifth purchase.

The lattes cost less than those I enjoy at Starbucks. But they are worthy. The only problem is occasionally, one of the restaurants will tell you their machine is not working.

"Not working?'' I think. I almost foam at the mouth in disgust, but I try to be pleasant.

My visit to the McDonald's near Columbia Mall is where I enjoyed my secret sin -- a big Mac for $4.39. Something I do once every couple of years. But they help to fill up active, working people. They almost overwhelm lethargic people like me.

With her husband, Mike, Cindy O'Keefe owns and operates the McDonald's restaurants near Columbia Mall and in East Grand Forks and Crookston. Over the years, she has seen the menu go more upscale with frappes and more healthful with salads. Instead of the fries that used to be standard for children, there is a choice of apple slices, little oranges and yogurt.

And there is fun. This month, McDonalds has a promotion where customers can get an order of nuggets for the price of the temperature here at noon on the day before. That is, if they buy a sandwich.

On a recent day with the noon temperature at zero the day before, the nuggets were free. I watched three young people carefully order the sandwich and free nuggets. And it's hard to believe, but they also had cola drinks for breakfast. Nearby, I watched a workman come in and enjoy the same for a mid-morning meal.

This was at the fourth McDonald's, located on Gateway Drive. It is owned by Mike's brother, Bill O'Keefe, who also owns the restaurants on South Washington and in Thief River Falls. It is the newest and perhaps most attractive McDonald's here. It seems spacious with a variety of seating arrangements that provide pseudo privacy.

This is a friendly place in the morning with people trickling in and out. There are newspapers around. And like all McDonald's restaurants, the place is wired for computers.

Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald's restaurant in California 50 years ago. The late John O'Keefe brought McDonald's to Grand Forks. There are now 35,000 McDonalds in 100 countries.

McDonald's

1125 S. Washington St.

Grand Forks

2910 32nd Avenue S.

Grand Forks

4340 Gateway Dr.

Grand Forks

1212 Central Ave. NE

East Grand Forks

Eatbeat Report Card: Eating out in Grand Forks ranges from McDonald's to the country club, which is open through March to the public (with a review coming next week). Four different McDonald's restaurants are a draw with versatile menus, fairly low prices and ongoing promotions.

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