PITTSBURGH - Michael James Delligatti, 98, the McDonald's franchisee who created the Big Mac nearly 50 years ago and saw it become perhaps the best-known fast-food sandwich in the world, died Monday at his home in Pittsburgh. Mr. Delligatti, according to his son Michael, ate at least one 540-calorie Big Mac a week for decades.
Mr. Delligatti's franchise was based in Uniontown, not far from Pittsburgh, when he invented the chain's signature burger in 1967 after deciding customers wanted a bigger sandwich. Demand exploded as Mr. Delligatti's sandwich spread to the rest of his 47 stores in Pennsylvania and was added to the chain's national menu in 1968.
"He was often asked why he named it the Big Mac, and he said because Big Mc sounded too funny," Michael Delligatti said.
However, McDonald's in 1985 honored Esther Glickstein Rose with coming up for a name for the burger and presented her with a plaque etched with a likeness of the best-selling sandwich and french fries between the Golden Arches. She was a 21-year-old secretary for the company's advertising department in 1967 when, the story goes, a harried executive dashing to a board meeting asked her for a name nomination.
Mr. Delligatti's family disputes that Rose came up with the idea. The company didn't immediately clear up the dispute Wednesday.
"Delligatti was a legendary franchisee within McDonald's system who made a lasting impression on our brand," the Illinois-based company said in a statement. The Big Mac "has become an iconic sandwich enjoyed by many around the world."
Ann Dugan, a former assistant dean of the University of Pittsburgh's Katz School of Business and an expert on business franchises, said Mr. Delligatti's genius was simple: He listened to customers who wanted a bigger burger.
"In franchising, there's always this set playbook and you have to follow it. Jim saw an opportunity to go outside the playbook because he knew the customer," Dugan said. "He persevered and [McDonald's] listened, and the rest is history."
Mr. Delligatti also helped introduce breakfast service at McDonald's, developing the hotcakes and sausage meal to feed hungry steelworkers on their way home from overnight shifts in the mills, his family said.