Ben Bergman, NPR
Dr. Chi-Jen Liu, a fourth-generation feng shui grand master and his daughter, Master Jenny Liu, have helped remodel real estate companies, toy makers, casinos and now a McDonald's, using the principals of feng shui.
Mark Brownstein, the restaurant's owner and operator, says that using feng shui at his McDonalds in Hacienda Heights was simply a smart business decision.
Mark Brownstein, the restaurant's owner and operator, says that using feng shui at his McDonalds in Hacienda Heights was simply a smart business decision. Richard Harbaugh
The ancient Chinese practice of feng shui is designed to provide people with a sense of serenity — even, as it turns out, in a fast-food nation.
A McDonald's in suburban Los Angeles has recently been remodeled to reflect the principals of feng shui. There are waterfalls, wooden ceilings and a specially designed entryway.
"The doors don't align, so we confuse the evil spirits and they stay out and we keep the good spirits in," says Mark Brownstein, the restaurant's owner and operator.
Brownstein, who runs 23 Southern California McDonald's, says the redesign was all about rejuvenating slumping sales. When he looked at the most recent census data he saw that the Asian population in the area had grown to nearly 40 percent.
"We wanted to make this store inviting to everyone but particularly to the large and growing Asian population in this area," he says, sitting in an earth-tone booth next to a waterfall.
There was just one problem: Brownstein didn't know much about feng shui. So, he hired Dr. Chi-Jen Liu, a fourth-generation feng shui grand master.
Liu works with his daughter, Master Jenny Liu, as a consultant, paid by the square foot. They have been hired by real estate companies, toy makers and even casinos. There is no company that they wouldn't be able to remodel, they say.
French Fries and Feng Shui?
For all the suggestions the Lius made there was one thing they couldn't change; the menu. Just like all McDonald's this one serves up artery-clogging fries, Big Macs and milkshakes, which raises the inevitable question: How often does the grand master chow down at "The Golden Arches?"
"Depends," he said. "When I'm very busy and very hungry, sometimes I need to eat."
Jenny Liu suggests that feng shui somehow reduces the negative aspects of greasy processed food.
"Feng shui is about the laws of nature, so in that way it's a counter," she said, adding: "When you're in an environment that's wonderful and peaceful and soothing, your whole mindset relaxes. You eat food slowly and don't rush and stuff your face."
"The mental is very important," her father agrees. "That part is stronger than the 'poison food.'"
Sales Are Strong
At least one customer eating during a recent lunch hour seemed positively giddy about her meal.
"My husband hasn't been in here," said Tina Turner (no relation to the singer), who ate a double cheeseburger and fries during a recent lunch hour. "I told him when you see a leather booth at a McDonald's, you're not going to believe it."
Owner and operator Brownstein is counting on similar reactions to revive sales. Since the remodeling a few months ago, business is up by double-digit margins.
Brownstein says he sees nothing peculiar about blending fast food and feng shui.
"It's not ironic at all," he said.
One more thing — don't call it "fast food."
"The food isn't fast, ... The food appears quickly, but that's service," he said adding, "We're willing to do this to say to the community we're going to build a store that really stands out. That's just good business sense."