FREMONT — Al Bernardin, inventor of the McDonald's Quarter Pounder who was known around town as "Fremont's hamburger king" has died of a stroke. He was 81.
Bernardin, a native of Lawrence, Mass., went to work at McDonald's corporate headquarters in 1960 and quickly rose to dean of Hamburger University, McDonald's training center.
Later, as vice president of product development, he played a major role in the formation of McDonald's signature fish sandwich, french fries, and hot apple and cherry pies.
But Bernardin's claim to fame came in 1971, when, as a franchise owner in Fremont, he introduced the Quarter Pounder, with the prophetic slogan, "Today Fremont, tomorrow the world."
"I felt there was a void in our menu vis-à-vis the adult who wanted a higher ratio of meat to bun," he said in 1991 while commemorating the burger's 20th anniversary.
Not all of his ideas became menu stables. McDonald's corporate office nixed the The Lite Mac — a one-fifth pounder consisting of 15 percent less beef fat — and the McGobbler, a sandwich made of ground turkey meat.
"He always wanted to make things better," said Bernardin's son, Mark, who owns three McDonald's in Fremont. "He spent two years making prototypes to spread butter on corn-on-the-cob."
While the Quarter Pounder became an international sensation, Bernardin said his most important contribution to fast-food fare is the frozen french fry.
Bernardin moved to Fremont in 1970 after buying two company-owned restaurants. At his peak, he owned nine restaurants in Southern Alameda County and became a local philanthropist.
Bernardin was so impressed by the hospice care his uncle received that he helped start the Tree of Angels, a Tri-City-area Christmas tree-lighting festival to raise money for Pathways Hospice. After he moved to Monterey 15 years ago, Bernardin volunteered at local hospices and drove patients to doctor's offices.
"He was a really good listener," Mark Bernardin said. "You could talk to him about any problem."
Bernardin had suffered several strokes before the one that led to his death Dec. 22. But he never lost his sense of humor.
Mark Bernardin recalled his father asking him two weeks ago to bring down a volleyball net when he came over for Christmas.
"He said, 'Just place me strategically on the court, and bounce the ball off the top of my head'," Mark recalled.
Bernardin is survived by his wife, Joan; his children, Mark and Kristen; and 10 grandchildren. Donations may be made to Pathways Hospice Foundation, 585 North Mary Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94085, or to Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, 23625 Holman Highway, Monterey, CA 93942.