For Andi Hilburn-Vaini, community is everything. As the owner/operator of 28 McDonald’s restaurants across southern [south central to southeastern] Missouri and northern Arkansas, Hilburn-Vaini is passionate about individual growth and opportunity. As she weighs each business decision, she thinks of the people and places the decision will serve.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic affected families throughout the United States, Hilburn-Vaini gathered her leadership team. “We asked ourselves, what do people need, and what do we need to do to meet that need?” Hilburn-Vaini raised the starting wage of her employees to $14 per hour, significantly higher than Missouri’s minimum wage. She says the move was “shocking” to the small towns where her McDonald’s are located, but soon, other businesses followed her lead. “Nurses, bank employees and factory workers got raises,” she says. “I changed the economy in some of these small towns. I didn’t set out to do that; I just set out to make sure we were taking care of our people.”
When she was a college student at Drury University, Hilburn-Vaini didn’t foresee her current path. “I studied criminology,” she says. “I thought I’d go into law enforcement.” Her plans began to shift when her father, an owner/operator of four McDonald’s, died while she was in college. Hilburn-Vaini’s mother underwent a rigorous approval process to assume ownership of his four locations. “My mom was taken care of by McDonald’s Corporation,” she says. “[Corporate representatives] came to West Plains to hold the hand of a newly widowed single mother.”
After Hilburn-Vaini graduated from Drury, she told her mom she wanted to join the business. Her mom answered, “You’re going to start as crew, not at the top.” Hilburn-Vaini gradually worked into leadership roles, earning an MBA from Drury along the way. In 2010, she purchased her first restaurant. By 2020, she owned 14 locations. In May 2022, she added 14 more.