‘No difference.’ Columbus fast-food worker with Down syndrome celebrates 30 years on the job.

One of the hardest-working fast-food employees in Columbus walked into a celebration Tuesday.

Jonathan Curran, 58, has worked at the same Burger King for 30 years. He also has Down syndrome.

Franchise owner Schuster Enterprises threw him a celebration Tuesday, and Curran said he was “shocked” and called it “super-duper.”

Asked what he likes about working at Burger King, Curran said, “I like the people here. … Burger King treats me like family.”

Just ask Angie Breeden, who has managed the Miller Road restaurant for three years.

“We love Jonathan here,” she said. “He helps everybody.”

Curran “comes in every day smiling,” Breeden said. “He’s happy here. He’s very caring for people too. He likes to see how you’re doing. If you’re feeling bad, he wants to make sure you’re OK.”

His duties include cleaning tables and restrooms, picking up trays, mopping and sweeping floors, taking out trash — and ensuring the iced tea urns are full and not mixed between sweet and unsweet. He also greets customers, and he helps them and his coworkers however he can, Breeden said.

“We do appreciate him a lot him a lot here,” she said. “We just cut up with him and make him feel like he’s one of us. No difference.”

Curran’s mother, Faith, drives him to work three days per week, and the city’s Dial-A-Ride bus takes him the other days. She gushed about the positive impact this job has on her son.

“Burger King has been fantastic to him,” she said.

Seeing her son succeed at joyful and meaningful work, she said, “It’s the most wonderful thing in the whole world.”

Burger King has helped her son “achieve tremendous potential, self-confidence. It’s just given him a reason to get up in the morning. They make him feel so good.”

Curran graduated from Hardaway High School in 1982. He worked as a dishwasher at Quincy’s for several years before the restaurant closed.

Schuster chief operating officer Bruce Walker told Curran, “We are truly blessed to have you as part of our family.”

Division manager Jeff Trepanier told Curran, “I appreciate you coming in, doing your job, keeping the customers happy, keeping us happy, keeping yourself happy. I hope you make it another 30 years with us. Thank you, sir.”

The milestone was reason enough for a crystal bowl, gift card and cake Curran received at the Miller Road location. But his longevity is even more remarkable when you consider:

  • Only 30-40 of the approximately 3,000 Schuster employees have worked with the company for at least three decades.
  • Only two of the approximately 2,700 hourly employees have worked there that long.
  • And he is the only one to reach that mark despite having a disability.

The unemployment rate in the United States for people with disabilities is twice as high as the rate for people without disabilities: 7.6% compared to 3.8%, according to the July 2019 figures from the U.S. Department of Labor. The department defines unemployed as someone who is jobless but actively sought work within the past four weeks.

The gap is even larger when comparing the labor participation rate, which measures the sum of all employed workers divided by the working age population: 20.8% for people with disabilities and 69.2% for people without disabilities.

Schuster’s human resources director, Ron Cooper, said the company has 46 special-needs employees out of its 3,000-person staff in 67 locations across Georgia and Alabama, including 11 in Columbus. Down syndrome and autism are the staff’s most common disabilities.

“The thing that most people don’t consider,” he said, “is that these are qualified applicants that can do a good job. They are hard workers.”

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.