Sue Durlak

By Bill & Shelly | January 18th, 2015

Bill Bevins and Shelly Perkins interviews the big-hearted business owner.


Sue Durlak went from humble beginnings to become one of Richmond’s most prominent business owners. Durlak, who owns 10 McDonald’s franchises in the Richmond area, is president of the board of Ronald McDonald House Charities.

This holiday season, we hear about one local charity making Richmond a better place.

We talked in the Easy 100.9 studio. Here are excerpts.

BILL BEVINS: IT’S BILL AND SHELLY WITH A VERY SPECIAL INTERVIEW WITH A VERY SPECIAL WOMAN IN CENTRAL VIRGINIA WHO’S BEEN VERY SUCCESSFUL IN BUSINESS, BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, HELPING OUR COMMUNITY – SUE DURLAK. 

SHELLY PERKINS: SUE, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US TODAY. YOU HAVE A FASCINATING STORY … YOU’RE EDUCATED AS A TEACHER, YOU LEFT THAT PROFESSION TO MOVE OVER AND WORK YOUR WAY UP THE RANKS OF MCDONALD’S, AND NOW YOU’RE A VERY SUCCESSFUL OWNER-OPERATOR OF SEVERAL MCDONALD’S IN THE RICHMOND AREA. HOW MANY WOMEN, AT THE TIME THAT YOU STARTED THAT PROCESS, WERE ACTUAL OWNER-OPERATORS IN THIS COMPANY?

SUE DURLAK: I came in as a manager trainee. I could tell you, in my store, of probably six or seven managers, I was the only female back then in 1982.

SP: AND WHY DID YOU LEAVE TEACHING TO START THIS CAREER WITH MCDONALD’S?

SD: Well, when I got out of teaching, I was making no money. And fortunately, for college, I did have to pay my college bills and apartment bills and needed a part-time job and got a job at McDonald’s as a manager trainee.

BB: SHELLY ASKED YOU HOW MANY WOMEN WERE INVOLVED BACK THEN, AND THE OBVIOUS ANSWER IS NOT VERY MANY. THAT WAS OBVIOUSLY EITHER NOT A ROADBLOCK OR AN INSPIRATION TO YOU.

SD: Well, you know, it was probably more of a roadblock, because, you know, even to this day – you guys will laugh – I can be at a construction site, and if they don’t know that I own the construction site, they will go to the first man standing next to me, who’s usually my general manager, and ask them the questions.

SP: WE WANT TO TALK NOW ABOUT THE GREAT WORK THAT YOU DO WITH THE RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE [CHARITIES]. WE HAVE ONE HERE LOCALLY THAT’S JUST GORGEOUS.

SD: Absolutely.

BB: WHEN DID IT ACTUALLY START?

SD: The charity itself started in 1974 … We bought [the house] in 1978, and believe it or not, everything was donated to get the doors open. The dollars that were spent were to buy the house, on Monument Avenue. I think it was $138,000, for five owner-operators at the time who were in town. It opened … in 1980.

BB: MOST FOLKS KNOW THE MISSION AND WHAT THE RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE [DOES]: IT HELPS FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN WHO ARE IN THE HOSPITAL. SHELLY AND I KNOW THAT THERE’S A LOT MORE TO IT.

SD: You know, there really is. The Ronald McDonald House works “holistically” … with not only the caring of families when they’re in the house, but emotional support for the moms, the children, because … they’re already under stress, they’re traumatized. We want that to be really a home for them, so that’s first and foremost. The other thing is, we have grants, and we do scholarships. We did $30,000 – along with our local owner-operators and corporate RMHC – we did 15 $2,000 educational sponsorships, and that’s important for us, too. And then we’ve used grant money to put in Ronald Rooms in hospitals, and we support other nonprofits.

SP: YOU GUYS HAVE DONE A LOT OF WORK ON THE RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE HERE IN RICHMOND – THE MOST RECENT, THE BEAUTIFUL RENOVATIONS TO THAT KITCHEN. IT’S BEEN AN HONOR FOR ME TO BE INVOLVED IN COOKING MEALS FOR THE FAMILIES THAT STAY THERE.

SD: Isn’t that fun?

SP: IT IS SO FUN … AND THERE’S SOME EXCITING NEWS ABOUT A NEW RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE.

SD: Right now it looks like the new free-standing children’s hospital that will hopefully be announced somewhere as to where it will be actually, physically, built here in Richmond. We’ve been asked to come to the table and build a new Ronald McDonald House freestanding on the site of the campus. So we are thrilled and looking forward to it. We love our house, and we look forward to the expansion of [it]. We have nine-plus, 10, rooms at the house, and we have two extensions at VCU – we have three Ronald rooms in VCU on the pediatric floor – and we have two at Bon Secours. But we look forward to building a 30- to 35-bedroom home. One of the promises I will make is that it will feel like a home even when it’s that big.

BB: SO TO BE ABLE TO EXPAND ON THAT LEVEL AND SERVE THAT MANY MORE PEOPLE, OBVIOUSLY IS A BIG UNDERTAKING. YOUR TEAM AND THE OWNERS AND OPERATORS AND SUCH FROM VIRGINIA OBVIOUSLY ARE MORE THAN HAPPY TO TAKE THAT CHALLENGE ON – AND WE WISH YOU THE BEST OF LUCK.

SD: Thank you for inviting me. I really appreciate it.

SP: WE HOPE THAT YOU WILL FIND OUT MORE ABOUT RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE CHARITIES AND GET INVOLVED LOCALLY AND EVEN NATIONALLY. YOU CAN FIND OUT ALL ABOUT THEM AT RMHC.ORG. 

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