McDonald's owner/operator Jeff Newman is enjoying a homecoming of sorts in Gahanna, and he's lovin' it.

He said he's looking forward to giving back to the community, where he started as a McDonald's crew member at the Classic drive-thru store down the street from the store he recently took over at 298 S. Hamilton Road.

The son of the man who co-founded Ronald McDonald House Charities worldwide, Newman, who's originally from Chicago, came to Ohio to join the McDonald's corporation in the operations field.

"I also managed the old Gahanna McDonald's location for some time (in the 1990s)," he said.

He became an owner/operator in 2003.

When he was given the chance to come back to Gahanna, he said he jumped at the opportunity.

"I re-established ties I had at the high school," he said. "It's cool. A lot of families that went to the old store are coming (here). I'm thrilled to be part of it."

In addition to his McDonald's tenure in central Ohio, Newman's father, Gerald, was the 35th employee of McDonald's under Ray Kroc, who opened the first franchised McDonald's, Inc.

Phil Saken, McDonald's Ohio communications and brand-reputation manager, said Newman's father worked as chief accounting officer for the global brand.

A large part of his legacy is Ronald McDonald House Charities, Saken said.

Newman said he had the opportunity to work for a short time on a worldwide Ronald McDonald House board, helping launch its endowment program.

"I'm on the board here with the Ronald McDonald House," he said. "My three grown girls and wife have volunteered there in the 13 to 14 years I have been here."

The Ronald McDonald House serves as a home away from home for families of seriously ill children being treated at Nationwide Children's Hospital and other area hospitals.

The central Ohio Ronald McDonald House, 711 E. Livingston Ave., serves more than 4,500 families annually.

When recent renovations were completed at the house, Saken said, it became the largest Ronald McDonald House in the world with nearly 120,000 square feet and 137 guest rooms.

"Jeff and his family are very involved and engaged with the house to carry on that family legacy," he said.

Justin Flores, Hamilton Road general manager, said he has been with McDonald's 15 years and the company has been generous in providing donations to those in need.

"We have people who come in on certain nights for family fun night," he said. "It's for those who might not have the resources and those who don't have a foundation to teach them about life."

Flores said he grew up in difficult circumstances, and McDonald's helped him personally and gave him a foundation.

Newman said it's ironic and sweet that he gets to come back as an owner and give back.

"What I thrive on is showing the community there's something different," he said. "The best way is to get out and get to know the people in the community."

He said the store will take on local sponsorships and invest in the community, including high school sports teams.

"Some programs do depend on small businesses," Newman said. "I'm proud of the store I took over. My job is to make it better for the community and to try to get my kids to volunteer. It's a huge benefit for them to be associated with that (Ronald McDonald) house."

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla