Growing up in the south Bronx, Cecil Joseph never thought he would one day get to be his own boss.
Today the Mott Haven native is not only his own boss, but after opening his most recent McDonald’s Restaurant in May, he is the boss of nearly 185 Bronxites.
For the past 12 years, Joseph has been running the Joseph Organization, a franchise business that owns McDonald’s Restaurants on Prospect Avenue and Charlotte Gardens. On May 6, Joseph opened his third location, at 279 E. 149th Street, across from Lincoln Hospital.
Joseph said the newest location is special for him, not only because it is his busiest restaurant, but it only three blocks away from the building where he grew up and lived for the first 23 years of his life.
“To come back to the neighborhood that gave you the opportunities that you had, and to be able to give those opportunities to the kids in the neighborhood where you walked the same streets… it’s amazing,” he said.
“When they hear my story, and see that I grew up here, it gives them hope that they can do something.”
Joseph was raised in the Patterson Houses public housing development, and began his career in 1972 as a youth coordinator for the South Bronx Community Corporation helping local young people find summer employment.
During his 26 year career in the public sector he spent most of his time working at the Bronx borough president’s office, becoming the first African American Deputy Bronx Borough President in 1986.
After that he was president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation and was an adjunct instructor, teaching business, at Monroe College.
When he worked as president of the BOEDC, he spend his time encouraging people to open businesses in the borough, so that property would go back on the tax rolls, and the area could continue to improve. After years promoting business in the area, he said just got the itch to start one of his own.
“I chose to do a franchise because I wanted something where I could really hit the ground running,” he said, adding that he spent months training to handle restaurants during his final weeks at the BOEDC. “I was prepared for the transition, but there’s nothing like when they hand you the keys and you have to run the place by yourself. We worked hard at the borough president’s office, but starting out here I worked the hardest I ever have in my life.”
After successfully owning and operating the stores on Prospect Avenue an Charlotte Gardens, McDonald’s chose to give him the store just around the corner from where he was born and raised. Joseph said when he heard he had been selected, he felt it was a godsend.
“I was so shocked, but I was very happy about it, and the store does very well,” he said.
With the walls filled with photos and posters of Bronx neighborhoods, the store is Joseph’s homage to the borough.
“I just wanted to highlight and showcase the Bronx,” he said. “It’s been very good to me. It’s a place of opportunity and if you stay focused you can do well.”
He now lives in Riverdale and has a son that recently graduated from Stanford University with a degree in chemical engineering.
Although he said he would like to open at least two more McDonald’s restaurants, he said he hopes to go back to teaching business at Monroe College, andthat he can one day buy some real estate to continue offering employment to Bronxites.
“I just want to stay the course,” he said. “I’ve achieved everything I wanted to achieve. I’m back in the community where I’m providing a good service for people, so I’ll just stay the course.”
Reach reporter Max Mitchell at (718) 742-3394.