Local McDonald’s franchisee, former teacher contributes to Thank You Meals for teachers

Leslie Mannes

Growing up in New York, Leslie Mannes thought her grandparents “were basically celebrities” for owning McDonald’s restaurants in California. After moving to Del Mar in eighth grade, her parents took over the restaurants, but Mannes took a different career path.

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” said Mannes, who lives in Cardiff and taught at Del Mar Heights Elementary School. “In high school and junior high, I was always the person who was babysitting, taking care of kids. I loved that engagement.”

But that changed almost 15 years ago when her mother was battling inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer that can be harder to diagnose.

Teachers were able to claim Thank You Meals through Oct. 15.

Her mother, who died in 2010, said to her: “We need more hands on deck, I need your help.”

Mannes gave up teaching to focus on her family’s five McDonald’s locations — two in Escondido, two in El Cajon and one in San Marcos.

“My everything up until that stage in my life was teaching,” she said. “McDonald’s was a family business, it’s what we talked about at dinner, but it wasn’t my career.”

In October, she got to combine her first passion of teaching with McDonald’s nationwide Thank You Meals for Educators program.

Teachers, administrators and other school staff were able to claim a free breakfast at participating McDonald’s restaurants from Oct. 11-15.

“We were honored to give away 12 million free Thank You Meals to first responders and healthcare workers last year,” Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald’s USA, said in a news release, “and now, with educators going above and beyond, we’re excited to recognize them in a way only McDonald’s can.”

Mannes dropped off Thank You Meals at W.D. Hall Elementary in El Cajon as part of the initiative. It was a way to pay homage to teachers for the work they did under the difficult circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a quick pivot to remote learning .

“In the midst of all this, it was teachers who were trying to figure out what school was going to look like without kids in front of them,” she said. “They had to figure out Zoom and the technology.”