There’s a McDonald’s that looks like a beach shack in Clearwater Beach. A “McDock” eatery right on the water in Madeira Beach. A green energy Mickey D’s near Walt Disney World, powered by solar panels, where guests sit at LED-embedded tables and charge their phones by riding public exercise bikes outside.
While most McDonald’s look alike, a rare breed of one-off themed locations are still out in the wild. How did these funky fast food spots come to be? What makes them so beloved? And why are they disappearing?
Max Krieger plans to drive across Florida and find out.
Krieger, a 28-year-old video game developer from Pittsburgh, Pa., is the founder of the popular Nonstandard McDonald’s Twitter account. Since he started it in July 2020, he’s amassed nearly 160,000 followers by sharing photos and stories of unusual Golden Arches around the world.
“The thing about nonstandard McDonald’s is people really take them for granted until they realize how strange they are,” he said.
It isn’t the first time he’s explored the history of strange themed or designed architectural spaces — his Twitter thread explaining the “postmodern design hellscape” that is the Cheesecake Factory went viral in 2017. But this summer, Krieger decided to take his fascination one step further.
He plans to embark on a road trip to see the bizarre buildings himself, and to film an educational documentary along the way — but only if his Kickstarter campaign to raise money gets full funding.
At least 12 Florida locations are on the route, including two in Tampa Bay. Krieger plans to hit both “active” nonstandard McDonald’s, which still look weird, and “deceased” ones, which have been renovated to look like normal locations.
“The nonstandard McDonald’s is an endangered species,” Krieger said.
Krieger chose the Sunshine State because of the density and amount of nonstandard McDonald’s, which will allow him to hit plenty of stops during a week of vacation time away from his day job. But he also believes the concept of a nonstandard McDonald’s fits the Floridian spirit well.
“They’re these kinds of very odd pieces of roadside America that are also accessible to pretty much everybody,” he said. “And they’re ubiquitous and require no explanation, even though they’re so strange.”
He theorizes that a reason for the emergence of nonstandard McDonald’s could be the themed dining boom of the 1980s and ’90s, which ushered in brands like the Rainforest Cafe. Another reason is the franchise model that McDonald’s uses.
“Oftentimes there’s a franchisee who really likes NASCAR, or Broadway, or classic Hollywood, and they just build these places out because they want to showcase them,” Krieger said.
There’s less than a week left of the Kickstarter fundraiser, which Krieger hopes can help him raise $45,000. As of Tuesday evening, more than 600 people pledged to chip in a total of nearly $30,000.
The documentary will be filmed at the end of the summer, and will be free to watch online. The funds collected through Kickstarter will be used to pay the production team, which include several popular YouTubers (Kevin Perjurer, for example, has a channel called Defunctland that explores the history of extinct theme parks).
The money will also go toward rewards for the backers. Perks range from merchandise to getting to travel to a Nonstandard McDonald’s of Krieger’s choosing for a free meal. Two backers said they’ll shell out $1,500 each for the latter.
If the fundraiser isn’t fully backed, Krieger said he will have to rethink the project. This trip and the Twitter account are both unaffiliated with McDonald’s.
“I know they know about the Kickstarter,” he said. “They interact with the account pretty frequently.”