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Korean elders win round one with Mickey D

Photo by Alex Robinson
By Alex Robinson

A Flushing McDonald’s franchise and a group of Korean seniors the fast food chain said had outstayed their welcome have officially ended a feud that drew international attention last week.

The group of seniors had been coming into the McDonald’s, at 144-01 Northern Blvd., buying a $1.09 cup of coffee each and sitting for hours on end chatting, before employees eventually decided to call the police when other customers could not find places to eat.

News of the seniors’ fight to stay in the McDonald’s quickly went viral and spread from Canada to Korea.

The controversy prompted state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) to arrange a conference call with the owner of the McDonald’s, Jack Bert. He said Bert agreed to a compromise to extend the maximum amount of time the seniors can sit at the restaurant, except during high-traffic lunch hours. Customers had been limited to 20 minutes.

“I was confident that once we were able to sit together and talk we would come to a positive resolution that would create an environment where all customers who wish to enjoy this restaurant would have the ability to do so,” Bert said in a statement.

Kim said he has also asked the owner to call his office or that of City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) in the future rather than notifying the police if he has problems with the seniors. In response, Kim said the seniors have agreed to abide by the new hours, which will be posted in Chinese and Korean.

“This incident was never about David vs. Goliath nor was it about discrimination. It was more of a cultural miscommunication,” Kim said. “It was a small business owner who has been doing business in Flushing for 20 years trying to keep his business running while accommodating our local seniors. His restaurant became so comfortable to this group of seniors that they are fighting to stay as long as possible there.”

Christine Colligan, president of the Korean American Parents Association of Greater New York, initially declared a boycott of McDonald’s last week with other Korean community leaders, but canceled the protest after the compromise was reached.

“It’s a very reasonable agreement,” she said. “So we’re calling off our boycott. We don’t want to put businesses in danger, but want to make sure that they know the mistreating of seniors is not acceptable.”

Mr. Kim, who is of no relation to the assemblyman and would not give his first name, said he lives a couple of blocks away from the McDonald’s and comes once every two days to drink coffee and talk with friends for up to an hour at a time. He said he was in the McDonald’s when the police came by to ask him to leave.

“I left and came back the next day,” Mr. Kim said, chuckling.

Flushing resident Eleni Katos, who lives down the block from the McDonald’s, said the seniors often take up a large chunk of the restaurant’s seating.

“If I come, I’ll get a salad and I’ll leave. There’s nowhere to sit,” she said. “I pass by every day. If I’m in the mood for a salad or a wrap, I’ll go in there, but even if you do want to sit, you can’t.”

As of Wednesday, Assemblyman Kim’s office had not received any calls or complaints from the McDonald’s about the seniors.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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