Meet the first African-American to open McDonald's in Las Vegas

By Sharie Johnson |, Bill Roe

Published 02/08 2016 01:43PM

Updated 02/11 2016 03:16PM

Bob Bailey, Dr. James McMillan, Robert C. Williams, Ruby Duncan, Dr. Anita Parsons and the list goes on and on.

There are countless African Americans in the Las Vegas valley who we're the first of their kind and paved the way for others to shine.

We're highlighting trailblazers in a variety of industries from entertainment to law.

In this story, you'll meet a man who made a big investment in business and people. One look at Woordow Smith and you can't imagine his strength, humor and passion, but a glance back at his life gives you an idea.

Special Section: America's Untold Journey

"Growing up in the South, separate but equal education. They all pushed, get an education, make something out of yourself, make your parents proud," said Smith, a McDonald's franchise owner.

And he did exactly that.

Smith, a Los Angeles electrical engineer with a master's in finance, earned another degree from Hamburger University and became the first African-American to open a McDonald's franchise in Las Vegas.

"The community was proud that I was here," he said.

But there was much more to his 1986 menu than value meals and sweet treats.

"We did an Easter bunny, we did a car show," he added. "We had a health fair, we gave away turkeys at Thanksgiving."

There was even a Santa at Christmas and random celebrations.

Smith's impact on the community surrounding Bonanza Road and Rancho Drive didn't end there.

"I spent a lot of time counseling our young males, young females," Smith said.

Little did he know the community pushed McDonald's to bring a black entrepreneur to the area and they soon learned he was more than businessman.

Over the course of 10 years, he and his wife saved $475,000 of their own money to purchase the franchise and finance the rest.

As for how he convinced McDonalds he'd make a great businessman, the personnel manager at the time was a Dodger's fan. Smith said he researched all he could and ended up interviewing his interviewer.


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