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Skip the drive-thru, head inside for a checkmate: why chess rules at this McDonald's

Melissa Hayes, the manager of McDonald's on Kenmount Road, says the franchise was  the first in Canada to include chess as part of its family fun night.  (Heather Barrett/CBC - image credit)
Melissa Hayes, the manager of McDonald's on Kenmount Road, says the franchise was the first in Canada to include chess as part of its family fun night. (Heather Barrett/CBC - image credit)
Melissa Hayes, the manager of McDonald's on Kenmount Road, says the franchise was  the first in Canada to include chess as part of its family fun night.
Melissa Hayes, the manager of McDonald's on Kenmount Road, says the franchise was the first in Canada to include chess as part of its family fun night.

Melissa Hayes, the manager of McDonald's on Kenmount Road, says the franchise was the first in Canada to include chess as part of its family fun night. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

When you see the golden arches of McDonald's, most people picture chicken nuggets, french fries and characters like the Hamburgler or a red-headed clown.

But some people in the St. John's area think of knights, pawns, kings and queens.

If you're looking for a mind-stimulating activity on a dreary Thursday evening or an unusual brunch get-together on Sunday, you can get all of that at an unusual place: the McDonald's restaurant on Kenmount Road in St. John's.

As part of its family fun night, the fast food location is hosting chess. And, it seems to be working.

"We have students that come in, we have elderly adults, young people. They come in just to enjoy a game and have some quality time with their community members," said Melissa Hayes, who manages the restaurant.

Hayes said they wanted to find a way to bring families together and tried chess as a one-off game night.

In an industry where drive-thru customers dominate the marketplace, the restaurant is finding that a classic game is a modern magnet for filling seats.

A long row of small two-person tables, often covered in fries and ketchup, are laid with chess boards and game pieces. People of all ages can come in and play or learn.

Ages from 4 to 85

While Family Fun Night is a common theme at McDonald's locations across Canada, Kenmount Road is the only one to implement chess.

Hayes said the youngest contender is four years old and the oldest is 85. Depending on the day, there can be as many as 30 people playing chess at once.

LISTEN | Heather Barrett of Weekend AM drops in on some chess games at a St. John's McDonald's:

"We're all about community and we're all about families," she said.

"So our values are: come in, enjoy a beverage, have a conversation. [A] burger and fries is great," she said, adding the real goal is "building that relationship" with guests.

Samadha Chauhan, her son Shiven and her daughter Samiran are hooked on chess night.

Chauhan has been playing chess since she was a child and it's something she wanted to teach her kids. Shiven has played some tournaments in the past, and the kids love McDonald's, so it's a win-win for the whole family.

Samadha Chauhan has played chess since she was a kid - and now she's teacher her kids. She says they will come to McDonald's every week for the game.
Samadha Chauhan has played chess since she was a kid - and now she's teacher her kids. She says they will come to McDonald's every week for the game.

Samadha Chauhan has played chess since she was a kid - and now she's teacher her kids. She says they will come to McDonald's every week for the game. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

"We are going to come every week here," she said. "It's kind of a math… It's a good exercise for your brain."

A retiree and chess enthusiast, Randy Green regularly volunteers with schools in St. John's to bring chess games to students.

On a whim, he initiated the games at McDonald's. He had never associated the fast food restaurant with chess before, but now it's a no-brainer.

"I asked them if they wanted to put out chess boards and it just took off from there," he said.

He wants anyone with an interest in the game to have a place to play that's open to all.

"If you want to compete hard, you compete hard. If you… want to learn the game or just enjoy the game with friends, make friends, that's what we want. We just want to grow the game."

Randy Green initiated the chess games at McDonald's. He's an avid chess player himself and hopes new players of all ages join.
Randy Green initiated the chess games at McDonald's. He's an avid chess player himself and hopes new players of all ages join.

Randy Green initiated the chess games at McDonald's. He's an avid chess player himself and hopes new players of all ages join. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

From the wide-ranging players who compete, chess seems to be the game of choice.

Desmond Pilgram has been playing the strategy game since his early 20s. As his son grew older, he took up an interest, too, and now they play together at McDonald's.

Alan Power caught a glance at the chess boards when he was in the restaurant one day and asked about it. When he found out the group sets up shop on Sunday's, he came in for a game of his own.

And while kids are usually on the slide or in the ball pit, Henry Luscombe prefers to sit in the dining room with a board in front of him.

Why?

"Because of the mental strategy. And you have to think hard and there's no limit because… you can just keep learning," he said.

Hunter Day has friends who love to play chess, and he wanted in on the game. "It helps your brain and it's a fun game," he said.

Hayes encourages any restaurant to take on a night, or morning, like this. She said it gives people a safe place to learn and have fun.

"All that we can do is give back to the community that's here every day," she said.

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