A Mother's Story 8


“They are my best friends, and they are just so much fun,” Isabelle Villaseñor says about her two daughters Jenny Briones and Lisa De Bono, who together own and operate seven McDonald’s.

“They are my best friends, and they are just so much fun,” Isabelle Villaseñor says about her two daughters Jenny Briones and Lisa De Bono.

“Every morning we have a group chat,” Lisa says. “We communicate by phone, text and email around 50 times a day.” Jenny chimes in, “It’s a good thing our husbands grew up with us, so they understand.”

It turns out that Isabelle was introduced to McDonalds in 1967, when at age 21 she married Pat Smith, who with his parents eventually owned and operated stores in Artesia and San Clemente. After Dolorys and Jack Smith passed away by 1976, Pat and Isabelle opened a store in San Juan Capistrano, later selling it before an amicable divorce in 1981. Pat sold the San Clemente store and got out of the business and Isabelle bought the original store in Artesia in 1981. She was a woman in the business when there were very few women owners, and she had not been involved in running the business, as she was busy raising their daughters. It was a challenge. In 18 months, however, she increased sales 121%, eventually moving on to build stores in Cypress and Norwalk, two stores at John Wayne Airport and purchase two stores in Lake Forest. She also bought and sold two stores in Cerritos along the way.

Daughters Join Business

Isabelle relates how her daughters became part of the family business:

“The girls helped me with local marketing events early on–Lisa even dressed as an Easter Bunny one year handing out treats to the little ones. From the time they were 16, they worked in the stores during Christmas and summer vacations as part of the crew, with the same training and wages as everyone else. It was very important to me for them to have a valuable work ethic.”

Isabelle says that when the girls started talking about the possibility of joining the business, she made it very clear that they needed to give 150%, and, if they changed their minds, there was no second chance.

However, there was one more hurtle before the girls could even consider the possibility.

“Our mother always insisted on an education first,” Jenny says.

Isabelle suggested they minor in business to prepare them for whatever field they chose to enter–something she continues to recommend to her grandchildren.

So, off to college the girls went, with Jenny opting for USC, where in 1994, she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications.

“For as long as I could remember, I wanted to be a McDonald’s owner operator,” Jenny says. “It was evident early on I had ketchup in my veins,” she jokes.

Following Lisa’s graduation from UCLA with a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature with an emphasis in Business Administration, she accepted a position in Los Angeles as a literary agent’s assistant at Ken Sherman & Associates, where she interned in college. A few years later, however, she found she was more inspired by “McDonald’s talk” with her mother and changed course to begin her journey with the brand.

Both daughters graduated from the McDonald’s Management Development Program, as well as from Hamburger University, before completing the McDonald’s Next Generation Program to become owner operators.

Lisa and Jenny both married their Mater Dei High School sweethearts–Jenny to Aaron Briones, who is the business’s Director of Operations (he started working at McDonalds at age 16), and Lisa to Paul De Bono, who is a private investigator with Argus West Investigations. As to children, Jenny and Aaron have three­–Jake, 17, Michael, 14, and Sara, 11, and Lisa and Paul are proud parents to Anthony, 18, and Joshua, 16.

Addressing family dynamics, Lisa says:

“Years ago the three of us agreed not to discuss business at the table, but, now we talk about it. Our kids give us plenty of feedback. When the grandchildren turn 16, they work in the business. McDonald’s is the perfect first job. You learn the basics of business, from customer service to the bottom line, as well as simple practices like teamwork and responsibility.”

“It’s great training for life,” Jenny adds.

With her two daughters and son-in-law in the business, Isabelle is happy to have three and four sets of eyes and ears.

”The best part is that I don’t have to explain my vision and my business philosophy to my family because they’ve lived it their entire lives,” she says.

Isabelle’s Beginnings

Isabelle learned her work ethic and philosophy of life from her parents, Jesus and Magdalena Villaseñor.

Isabelle’s father was a gardner, who created beautiful landscaping in Beverly Hills, and her mother was a secretary.

“His clients loved him and would invite my parents to lunch and to their weddings,” she says.

Her parents taught her that honesty, integrity and living the Golden Rule is a philosophy she has carried into the business.

“We want to treat our customers as our most treasured investment. In other words, we want a smile on both sides of the counter.”

Isabelle’s mother helped her with the business from the very beginning. She helped care for the girls and was the bookkeeper into her early 80’s. She passed on in 2014, long after her father passed in 1994.

“My mother was the lovely combination of beauty and grace, and her greatest virtue was patience. She was funny, a math whiz and would do anything for me, her only child. We were inseparable. I miss her every day.”

Isabelle’s lessons in giving are evidenced by a myriad of awards and recognitions. She received the McTLC Award at the Ronald McDonald House Charities Awards of Excellence in 2001, where she was the only McDonald’s owner operator honored for her outstanding contributions to improve the health and well-being of children. She spoke to an audience of 2,000 people and donated the $30,000 to St. Joseph Ballet, now known as The Wooden Floor. Other luminaries honored at the annual event have included Colin Powell, John Wooden, Paul Newman, Nancy Reagan, Dr. Benjamin Carson, among others.

“It was absolutely the highlight of my career,” she says.

Present Day

The family spends time at Lake Arrowhead, where they have a cabin, and last year, they visited a dude ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Isabelle also takes the grandkids to Washington, D.C. in their eighth grade year.

“It’s a great way to bond,” she says.

It seems that Isabelle is famous for her favorite quotes, poems and thoughts, things that she posted regularly on the refrigerator during her daughters’ growing-up years under “I’m the Mommy That’a Why.” There were so many that Lisa and Jenny mounted a collage of them to give their mother on a recent Mother’s Day.

“They carry the essence of how we were raised and how blessed we are,” Lisa says.

There is a lot of love in this family. As a loving daughter, mother and grandmother, Isabelle sums up her life:

“God has blessed me beyond measure. Life is good!”