With so many fascinating people living here on the Gulf Coast, you never know just who might be sitting next to you. In an area full of colorful characters with endless talents and amazing stories, Mac McAleer is one of those hidden gems. Smart, talented, business savvy, and most of all, humble, McAleer’s life has been an epic journey that would take most of us three lifetimes to live. Born and raised in Mobile, McAleer learned about the ins and outs of business early in life after his father bought a Krispy Kreme franchise in Mobile in 1953. His father grew the business to include franchises all over Alabama and the surrounding areas. McAleer joined his father in the family business in 1971, where he primarily handled wholesale inventory and deliveries to area locations. In 1982 the photo franchise by David Alexander group bought out the Krispy Kreme Corporation from the founders family after his passing. His father took the lead as President and moved to Winston Salem NC, the home office location. The franchise group praised him for taking the company “back to the basics”. His father fell ill after a few years and Mac stepped up to help. Mac moved to NC in 1986 and became President of Krispy Kreme in 1988. At the time, Krispy Kreme’s business was 90% wholesale and each store had only small coffee bar style locations. Now, President, McAleer saw the need for change in the Krispy Kreme concept in order to enhance retail. “By this time, we were losing wholesale business because grocery stores were opening their own bakeries. So I knew something had to change,” McAleer said. While brainstorming ideas on how to increase revenue, McAleer went back to his days at his Montgomery store where people continuously stopped in to ask, “What time do you make the hot doughnuts? ” McAleer answered the question, quite literally, in lights as he put out the first ‘Hot Doughnuts When Flashing’ sign to draw customers in. Using that idea, McAleer designed a new retail only concept that centered on giving the retail customer what they had been asking for …Hot Doughnuts…and signaling with a light when the doughnuts were being made.
From New York to California, Krispy Kreme franchises ran with McAleer’s concept. Today, Krispy Kreme has become a global phenomenon, having
franchises in 34 countries around the world.
When Krispy Kreme became a publicly traded company in 2000, McAleer took a step back as he knew his work with the corporate side of the business was done. “I wasn’t interested in running a publicly traded company, so my time as CEO and Chairman of the Board came to an end,” McAleer said. After nearly a dozen years as President, then CEO and Chairman of the Board, the Gulf Coast was calling him home. Not wanting to end his career in the doughnut business, he bought the Mobile franchise of Krispy Kreme and moved back to Alabama.
Little did McAleer know that his business expertise was about to come in handy once again.
At a benefit for Hurricane George that heavily damaged the Gulf Coast, McAleer was introduced to beloved singer, Jimmy Buffett. Buffett’s sister Lucy, known for her famed Lulu’s Homeport Restaurant in Gulf Shores, was struggling with business at her first Lulu’s location at the time. “So there I was, dressed in my Krispy Kreme hat and tshirt with my doughnuts in tow for the band and I bumped into Jimmy. We chatted for a bit about
having both gone to McGill Institute in Mobile, and finally he asked me if I might help his sister drum up business by selling doughnuts in her bait shop,” McAleer recalled. McAleer asked him, “You mean you want me to sell fresh doughnuts next to dead shrimp?”, but he agreed to go on over there and help her out. At the time, Lulu’s was a little place over on Week’s Bay. “It’s what I might call a high class dive. Wait. I take that back…Lulu’s in Gulf Shores is a high class dive. The original was just a dive,” McAleer jokes. McAleer said the combination of doughnuts and dead shrimp didn’t sell, but he and Lucy did end up hitting it off professionally and personally.
When the lease on her Week’s Bay property wasn’t renewed, Buffett thought she was done for. Having moved back to the area from California to take care of her ailing parents, Buffett told McAleer she was considering headed back to the west coast. “Well, I couldn’t let her do that,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. McAleer took her outside and said, “Lucy? You see these cars in the parking lot? Tags from Kansas, Ohio, Missouri….these people are from Gulf Shores visiting on vacation….and they drove 18 miles just to find you. You are a destination. Let me go to Gulf Shores and find you a spot, and I’ll build you a new restaurant.” So we found an old warehouse by the Hwy59 bridge on the intracoastal waterway, and I went to work building the facility while Lucy continued cooking her cheeseburgers at the old place. We never looked back,” McAleer said.
To introduce the new Lulu’s to the world, McAleer said they threw a unique barge party. “I wanted everyone to know what she was doing. 50 jobs were on the line, and we didn’t like that, so I put her original stage on a 100’ barge, we put 6 palm trees from the old location on that barge, Jimmy’s old Falcon, a sailboat, and had the Leavin’ Brothers band jamming in the middle of all of that. It was a fun way to market our new location while letting the community know that we cared about those 50 jobs, and we needed their support to create more,” he said.
“We didn’t have the right permits for a boat parade so the local marine police officer was very reluctant to let us proceed…but we did. We were Leaving…and the Leavin’ Brothers turned up the volume as we headed to the mouth of Weeks bay.”
“Lucy wasn’t thrilled with the new location at first, but she trusted my plan, and I promised her we’d take Lulu’s from a ‘dive’ to ‘high class dive’.”
The combination of Buffett’s vision and passion for her beloved Lulu’s and McAleer’s keen eye for business patterns and strategies allowed for Lulu’s to become a household name here on the Gulf Coast.
“Lucy has really taken Lulu’s to another level. She now has a Lulu’s in Destin, and a new one in North Myrtle Beach. She has worked really hard over the years to make this such a success. And she’s the star of the show,” McAleer said proudly of his partner.
Now, McAleer is spending his time overseeing the construction of he and Buffett’s “forever home”, as he called it, in the area. Being so close to the gulf again inspired McAleer to reconnect with the water, nature, and the beauty and peace that it brings through daily walks on the beach. Coincidentally, thanks to his new found hobby, his life was about to take another interesting turn.
McAleer discovered his talent for photography while snapping random photos on the beach just steps from his house. “I found that there is no place more peaceful than the beach in the mornings. I started to notice that every morning was different. The light, the way the clouds looked, the size of the waves. You never caught the same thing twice,” McAleer said of his early photos taken on an iPhone.
“I just enjoyed taking pictures of the things I’d see on walks and sharing them with my friends, and they started getting a pretty big response from people,” McAleer said. But it wasn’t until he captured a video of, what has now become known as the dance with ‘Fred and Ginger’, that McAleer realized just how far his art was reaching.
“I was watching this gorgeous sunrise when a Blue Heron stepped right in front of the sun and started to sway back and forth, doing a sort of dance. I started filming and another bird joined in and the two moved back and forth like two dancers with their beaks pointed in the air for some time as the sun continued to rise,” he said.
When he posted the video on social media, McAleer was astonished to find that it was quickly shared over a million times. “It quickly swept through social media, and before it was all said and done, it had been viewed over 13 million times all over the world,” he said.
Always a visionary, McAleer saw an opportunity to add photographer and good-will ambassador to his already impressive resume. “I started shooting and sharing my pictures every day and was overwhelmed by the response I got from people from all over the world. Before I knew it I had friends from Turkey, Russia, Istanbul, you name it…all wanting to follow my page for the same simple reason. No matter where we are in the world, we all want a moment in our day for peace, a moment to unite, recognizing that we are all the same in our appreciation for all the beauty on our planet. Their appreciation of my photos makes me feel like we are not so different after all,” McAleer said.
While McAleer stated he isn’t showing or selling his work anywhere just yet, he has considered showcasing his photos in a gallery setting in the future. “People have asked me to sell my work to the public, but I’ve been reluctant to do so. The most important thing for me is being able to share the peace I find on my morning beach walks with others on social media,” he said. McAleer’s photos have most recently been featured at Fin and Fork in Orange Beach Whether it’s growing an existing business, saving a business, or starting a new one with his God given talents, it’s clear to see that everything McAleer touches turns to gold. Smart, driven, and undeniably talented and charming, McAleer has conquered the business world multiple times, and managed to capture the hearts of people all over the world with his eye for photography and his passion for peace.
But despite his enormous success in so many ventures, McAleer remains incredibly down to earth and humble. “I’m just a regular guy, spending what precious time I can with my family. The people around me deserve all the recognition, not me. I just want to keep spending my time appreciating all the beauty I see and enjoying the peace I find on my morning walks.”
If you would like to check out Mac McAleer’s photos, visit his Facebook page and/or www.PKLive.com.