The Decision of a Lifetime: How Margaret Opened Doors Across QSR & Broke Glass Ceilings

As one of Taco Bell’s first 100 franchisees, Margaret Jones paved the way for women to thrive as leaders of the multi-billion-dollar brand
Apr 4, 2022 10:30 AM ET
Blog

Imagine this: at 15 years old, you’re about to start high school with your childhood friends, in a town you spent your whole life in. As you’re about to begin, your mom decides to uproot your family and move 140 miles away from Albuquerque, New Mexico to the small town of Gallup – population 14,000. A new restaurant chain had recently hit the market and your mom wanted to jump on the opportunity.

“She thoroughly believed in this little company she saw forming.” Janet Jenkins, co-owner of LucWork Enterprises, Inc. with Bud Jenkins, tells me after she reflects on the decision that changed her family’s life all those years ago. She’s seen firsthand how Taco Bell has grown in the 54 years since her parents, Margaret and Robert Jones, built the family’s first location – and the brand’s 419th, in 1968. At that time, Taco Bell had only been around for a little over 6 years, but Margaret saw the potential and trusted her gut.

With a supportive husband and a strong business background passed down by her father, Margaret knew the responsibility she was about to take on. Not just running a business but stepping into the legacy she was actively creating; being a woman who would break glass ceilings for others across the QSR industry. Margaret stepped into the role of President of the blossoming family business. Robert, a tried-and-true military man, found his post-service passions elsewhere – Baskin Robbins. “He loved decorating cakes!” laughed Janet. Despite being hands off in the day-to-day business, “My dad always supported my mother. Always. That’s why they were married for almost 60 years. She was the anchor and was just as supportive of him as he was of her.”

Margaret represented an era of women who were very aware of how difficult it was to get things done in male-dominated industries – she just didn’t care. Janet and her son, Jon, who is Vice President of LucWork, laughed in astonishment when remembering the Taco Bell matriarch. She never shied away from voicing her opinions, especially when it came to bettering how the brand could operate.

Anecdote after anecdote of her far-reaching influence were flying; “she was a big proponent of volunteering to test out the first point of sale (POS) system, first mini-production line, or new décor schemes. When Bud and I were opening our new restaurant in Normal, IL, she didn’t like the plans,” said Janet. So, she took matters into her own hands, calling up Taco Bell’s Franchise Management Advisory Council – known today as FRANMAC, and on which Margaret was the first female franchisee – to give strong feedback about a new design. They revamped the entire plan and even temporarily named the new design, the “M” Building, after Margaret Jones herself.

Despite her strong influence, she was always the first one to say it’s a team effort – whether it was between the franchisee and franchisor, or within her own family.

All four of Margaret’s daughters grew up working inside Taco Bells, and three even followed in their mother’s footsteps, becoming Taco Bell franchisees and operators themselves. Margaret’s legacy remains strong today and now spans multiple third generation businesses. Marilyn Anderson, and her son Kenny Anderson, operate Four Corners Tacos in Farmington, New Mexico. Janet Jenkins, Bud Jenkins, and their son Jon, operate LucWork Enterprises in Central Illinois. Barbara Nelson, once a franchisee with Bo-Mar, Inc., is now a retired teacher.

Margaret taught her daughters the importance of back of house operations, passing down her attention to detail and passion for teaching. Even at 80 years old, she could be seen washing dishes, shoulder to shoulder with the newest generation of restaurant employees.

“You need to work hard, be involved, and pay attention to details to be successful,” recalls Janet of her mother’s work philosophy.

Remember that far-reaching influence we talked about? It extended well beyond the walls of her restaurants. “We always say our managers are life coaches who happen to sell tacos,” said Jon. “Her legacy lives on every day – all of us are in this business for the people.”

Today, women make up over half of LucWork’s management team and support staff, proving the doors Margaret Jones opened all those years ago, are still being walked through today.

As a third-generation franchisee, Jon recognizes how rare his experience has been. “I’ve taken this for granted! I have been surrounded by strong businesswomen my entire life – I don’t know anything different. Women are the reason for our success; they’re why we are celebrating our 40th year in business.”

Margaret Jones’ legacy is an impressive one. In 1968, she opened her restaurant with just 15 employees. Now, 54 years later Margaret’s vision has resulted in well over 50,000 people employed between two third generation businesses, and thousands of women leading in key leadership roles. All this because Margaret had a belief in a concept and took a risk to build her very first restaurant, in the middle of the high desert, all those years ago.