McDonald’s manager’s life story inspires young workers

By Bill Parry

Hugo Zenerato is a busy young man.

As an area supervisor in charge of four high-volume McDonald’s restaurants in Corona and Jackson Heights, the 26-year-old Rego Park resident oversees 170 workers while personally mentoring several dozen young people on the staff with his leadership skills and his inspirational journey up the corporate ladder.

“I try to motivate and lead them,” he said. “I give them a road map that shows you can move up the chain and have a very successful career in this company if you are willing to work hard.”

Zenerato was born and raised in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and moved to the United States, by himself, at 14 to live with an aunt in central New Jersey. There he began his rapid ascent working behind the counter as part of the crew in the local McDonald’s franchise.

By 21, Zenerato was the general manager of a franchise that turned a $3.1 million profit in a single year and by age 23 he became the youngest winner of the prestigious Ray Kroc Award, which recognizes the top 1 percent of restaurant managers across the entire U.S. system.

“When you consider there are 14,000 McDonald’s in the country, the award is highly significant and really propelled me on the fast track,” he said. “I became an area supervisor in New Jersey, and when the owner bought four locations in Queens, he thought I was the one to run them for him.”

Twelve years after leaving Brazil, he thinks he has found the perfect place for himself.

Zenerato says he laughs when people ask him if he left Brazil to escape crime and poverty.

“People ask me that all the time, but the truth is, I left because of my love of languages. I’m very passionate about foreign languages and I wanted to be somewhere I could learn as many as possible,” Zenerato said.

In addition to his native Portuguese, he learned English, French and Spanish.

“Now I am in the best place in the world to learn new languages,” he said. “I went from the middle of nowhere in central New Jersey to the most diverse borough on the planet where over 140 different languages are spoken. It couldn’t have worked out any better. I love the diversity.”

In addition to running the four Queens franchises, Zenerato continues his education studying business administration and entrepreneurship at DeVry University.

Area high schools will benefit from Zenerato’s love of education. When he took over the Corona and Jackson Heights locations in January, he brought along a special program that had never been done in Queens.

“It’s called McTeacher’s Night, where the faculty from a local high school works behind the counter for three hours and all of their students come with their families to see them working in McDonald’s uniforms,” Zenerato said. “We donate a percentage of those sales to their schools for computers, library projects and trips.”

The teachers from Pioneer Academy in Corona were the first to test McTeacher’s Night in June.

“You could barely walk inside it was so packed,” Zenerato said. “It was so successful we plan to do it once or twice a month and we’ll start doing it at the other stores as well.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr‌y@cng‌local.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.