Northern Ireland native Rhod McNee never had plans to move to the United States and open a business or start a career, but that’s what happened.
McNee is vice president for operations at J.S. Ventures, which is Wichitan Jim Stevens’ company that has 25 Applebee’s franchises. McNee also is a vice president and partner in Stevens’ Big Cheese, which so far has three Pie Five Pizzas in Wichita – near Maple and Ridge Road, at NewMarket Square at 21st and Maize Road and the latest near 21st and Rock Road – and more planned for Omaha and Lincoln.
Originally, McNee planned to live in Ireland and be a butcher. He apprenticed for four years and then took a break to travel.
“I’d just turned 21 and thought … man, I want to go see some of the world.”
His boss told him, “If you come back in a year, I’ll hold your job for you.”
“I haven’t been back,” McNee said. “That was 24 years ago.”
He settled in Bermuda for a time and met his future wife, a Ponca City native. The two returned to Oklahoma and opened an English pub.
“That was a tough job,” McNee said. “We were working 95 to 100 hours a week.”
They decided to sell, and McNee answered an ad to run one of Stevens’ Applebee’s restaurants.
Stevens likes to tell people to ask McNee about how he got here, but McNee says he’s not entirely sure why.
“I wasn’t smuggled in a banana boat.”
Though technically he’s working for someone else, McNee said, “I treat Pie Five and Applebee’s as part of my own.”
He said it’s nice to have a network of help, though.
“You do have the support of the parent franchisors.”
Q. What’s it like working with Jim?
A. He’s the most straightforward son-of-a-gun I’ve ever worked for. … I’ve never had anything in writing from Jim Stevens. Everything’s a handshake. If he says he’ll do it, he’s good to his word. He always does it.
Q. What has he taught you?
A. Never mess with anyone’s paycheck. … When I started working for him, he said, “If we ever make a mistake in someone’s paycheck, always fix it immediately. … That $100 is important to them.”
Q. What’s it like opening three restaurants back to back to back?
A. It’s been busy. … We have to be very organized. … You have to be very structured with it. Make sure everything is one step at a time. … Rock Road makes three in 17 weeks, which is a pretty good pace. You get good at it.
Q. Do you miss Ireland?
A. You know, when you live somewhere, you don’t appreciate it. … Then when I left and first took my wife back for the first time, you kind of see it through her eyes. It really is beautiful. It really is green. … You kind of maybe appreciate it a little more.
Q. What’s one thing few people know about you?
A. I love to ride motorcycles. … That’s a non-teamwork, solo activity, and you can’t answer your phone.