Greece Burgers

Plenty of Olympic athletes trained in Phoenix for the summer games, and we even managed to send some locals to compete in Athens this month. But the Valley's truest distinction at the Olympics is the presence of little Gabriela Cruz, one of only a handful of McDonald's employees from across the nation to be chosen to serve Sausage McMuffins at the Summer Olympics. We caught up with Cruz before she left the country. Cruz, a shift manager at a Golden Arches store in Litchfield Park, swears she didn't train for her honors, that it was her natural way with an Egg and Cheese McGriddle that got her plucked from thousands of hopefuls to represent McDonaldland and all of America. To which we say, "You go, girl."

New Times: You're the only McDonald's employee to travel to Athens to serve meals to Olympic athletes.

Gabriela Cruz: It's exciting, I know. Well, it's really me and a girl from Salt Lake City who's also going. I don't know why, but there hasn't been so much in the newspapers about her going.

NT: What will you do once you get to Athens?

Cruz: We're going to be serving the athletes at the Olympics and whoever else is hungry. But they have to be working at the Olympics to eat McDonald's food; we're not just going to serve it to, you know, just anybody.

NT: Of course not. It's American food! So you're going to the Olympics to serve Big Macs.

Cruz: Well, yes. Also Quarter Pounders, and French fries, and really just our whole menu, I guess. You have to have a lot of different food because the athletes get really hungry and because maybe the people in Athens haven't had [McDonald's] food before.

NT: So you're just going to work while you're there. McDonald's is sending you to the Olympics to dish up fries and milk shakes.

Cruz: I guess so. Yeah. But, you know, I get to go to some of the events, if it's not during my shift, and maybe some tours of Athens when I'm not working. I'm gonna be working five days a week for the two weeks I'm there. But they got me tickets to two different events. I don't know which ones, because they didn't let me pick them, you know. But they'll probably tell me when I get there.

NT: Is going to Athens like a dream come true?

Cruz: Yeah! It really is.

NT: You've always wanted to go there.

Cruz: Well, I never really thought about going there, because it just never occurred to me. I heard of Athens. But it's more like my dream come true that I didn't dream of. You know what I mean?

NT: Exactly. I have that kind of dream all the time. So, how were you chosen?

Cruz: Well, our store is in the top 10 percent of all the McDonald's Mystery Shops in terms of customer service, and --

NT: Wait. What's a Mystery Shop? Is that like a store that nobody knows about? Do you serve Mystery Meat?

Cruz: What? No. It's, like, we get graded on our service, our hospitality, teamwork, cleanliness of the store, and quality of the food. And every month they come in and they do one and pretend to be a customer and they rank the stores based on that. Like it's a mystery that they were here. And our store is in the top 10 percent in the nation, so they told our manager to pick somebody from this store to represent McDonald's, and she picked me.

NT: How are you preparing for your trip?

Cruz: Well, mostly by packing. People have been good about helping me find out about the weather there. It's supposed to be in the 80s, so I'm kind of excited about that.

NT: Where is Athens, exactly?

Cruz: In Greece?

NT: Why, yes. I believe it is.

Cruz: It's far away, I know that.

NT: Will you be taking part in a Big Mac-building competition once you're there?

Cruz: No, that's happening two days before I get there. I'm going to miss that. Which is too bad. It would have been great. It's a timed event, and whoever makes the fastest Big Mac, and the neatest one, gets to walk in the line at the Opening Ceremonies with Ronald McDonald.

NT: Hey, wait -- I was kidding. So there really is a Big Mac event? How do you prepare for such an event?

Cruz: Well, I work at McDonald's. So I know already how to make these things. I think I could have made a fast Big Mac, but now no one will ever know.

NT: What a shame. Hey, how's your Greek? Can you say "tangy honey mustard sauce" in Greek?

Cruz: No. People told me I'm going to be saying "Opa!" a lot, but I'm not sure what they mean by that. I'll just say it and see what happens. I probably won't have to speak the language while I'm there, because people will mostly be talking to me about fish sandwiches or McGriddles, and they'll probably just say that in English. I don't think they have those things in the Greek [language].

NT: You don't think McDonald's in Athens serves dolmas with yogurt sauce? Or spanakopita burgers?

Cruz: That's what I'm going to find out. When I get there, they'll show me where I'll be working, and they'll show me what they serve then. I'm going to have a good time and really enjoy myself. I'm excited about the Olympics.

NT: Are you a big Olympics fan?

Cruz: Since I won I've been more interested in it. I've been trying to find out different things about it, like what kind of competitions they have and when it's going to be on TV so I can watch. It's fun. And everyone is so competitive.

NT: I'll say! How do you think the U.S. will do?

Cruz: Well, they have to do good. I think we'll win, because I think there are more people in the U.S. who are better athletes. Like maybe in other countries they don't really compete as much. You know what I mean?

NT: Yes. Now, you've been getting a lot of media attention lately. Are you going to get all famous and shit, and quit McDonald's and become a celebrity?

Cruz: I am getting a lot of attention. I'm loving it, too. Yeah. But I don't think it will be like fame, you know, like J.Lo or anything. I think people might forget [about me] after I get back and stuff.

NT: You're 28 -- isn't that a little long in the tooth to be working at Mickey D's?

Cruz: No! We've got all ages here. You can really get a good career out of McDonald's if you do it right. I've been here since we opened the store three years ago. I've also got another career. I'm a medical assistant. I work two jobs. But I'm always going to stay at McDonald's.

NT: I've always wanted to meet the Hamburglar. Can you arrange that for me?

Cruz: No. I mean, I would, except I think he's not around anymore. Like we don't use him anymore.

NT: Okay. Then can you tell me what's in the secret sauce?

Cruz: No! No way.

NT: Come on.

Cruz: I don't even know! But if I did, I couldn't tell you. They might not let me work here anymore. Or go to the Olympics and stuff. McDonald's is really, really nice to me. I'm not telling any secrets.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela