More than six months after Ringgold McDonald's was demolished in the April 27 tornadoes, the Golden Arches are open again.
The restaurant at 5471 Alabama Hwy. officially opened Oct. 31.
"After the tornado I stood in the parking lot taking in the devastation around me," said operations manager Darlene McCannon. "A little girl and her mother were there too. The girl asked her mother if the McDonald's was going to come back. I walked over and told the little girl, 'Yes, we will rebuild and we will be better than ever.'"
McCannon said beautiful landscaping in front of the store surrounds a reflection bench that signifies the tornado. Inman Landscape owner Steve Inman said the bench memorializes people that lost their lives in Ringgold April 27.
"I reflected and thanked God that more lives weren't lost," he said. "The landscape is a work in progress."
He said he used rocks that were in the previous landscape and added a centerpiece Dwarf Japanese maple surrounded by globosas, Weeping Golden Deodar cedars and Dwarf Mondo grass.
"When the tornado happened, it broke my heart," said Ringgold McDonald's general manager Kelley Hollis. "This is my house."
She said manager Rod Morris led 10 people to safety in the cooler - the only area that did not sustain damage in the tornado.
"I was handing out food in the window and everyone screamed," said store manager Jessika Seitz. "It was super scary. The people that were here during the tornado, we have a close bond now because we've been through something together."
The store is now open 24/7 every day of the year, even on Christmas Day.
"Today, we are back and better than before," McCannon said. "As we reopen the doors of our new McDonald's, it's only possible because of the dedication of our employees and the support of our friends and neighbors. We want the community and our customers to know that we continue to stand with them as many are still rebuilding."
McCannon said when people walk in the store now they comment on how it looks like a fine dining establishment. She said the store reflects McDonald's new design with bold red coloring, modern lighting, leather seating, free Wi-Fi Internet and three plasma flat screen TVs. The front counter features updated menu boards and the back of the store has a new indoor McDonald's Playland area.
Of the restaurant's original 63 employees, 40 returned to work, while some transferred to other restaurants. Ringgold McDonald's has added an additional 44 crew members and managers.
The store boasts a large stock room, conference room, new camera system and a new double-lane drive-thru with automated menus that turn in for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The store will roll out new Happy Meals that contain a lower sodium count and required apple slices starting Nov. 18. For more information, visit www.mcdonalds.com.