ARDEN HILLS, Minn. — When people talk about a restaurant's performance, they are generally not referring to the entertainment coming through the drive-thru speaker.
But lunch time is show time at the Arden Hills' McDonald’s.
“BA, DA, BA, DA, DA!” comes a voice from the speaker mimicking a familiar McDonald’s jingle.
Listening from the driver’s seat of his SUV, Mark Lozano busts out laughing. “This guy is great,” he says.
More singing follows, then a polite greeting.
“Thank you so much for choosing Arden Hills McDonald's,” the voice continues. “My name is Daniel. How are you today?”
22-year-old Daniel Marshall will not only sing your order, if he doesn’t know your name, he’ll give you one.
“What's up Superstar?” he asks a customer.
Daniel hands out monikers like quarter-pounders with cheese.
“He really puts a smile on my face,” a laughing Emily Rabe says from her driver’s seat. “When I’m having a mental breakdown as a student, he really brightens my day.”
Daniel spots a convertible pulling up to his window. “Woohoo!” he says to the owner.
Making friends comes as naturally as ketchup goes with fries.
But that’s not the way it's always been for Daniel.
“I was different from a lot of people,” Daniel says.
The teasing started in elementary school, about the time Daniel was diagnosed with autism.
“I was called names, like, I was dumb, I was stupid, I was retarded,” he says.
Daniel's mom, Cheryl Marshall, says the taunting continued after high school, administered by the manager of different burger place where Daniel used to work.
Cheryl says the manager and others at the restaurant found Daniel’s positivity off-putting.
“Every day they would say to him, ‘You just need to quit. Isn't there somewhere else you would like to work,’” Daniel’s mom says.
But something clicked when Daniel teamed with his McDonald’s manager, Ashley Sicora.
“I understand how he ticks,” Ashley says. “My youngest son is actually autistic as well.”
In Liam – her 10-year-old son – Ashley sees Daniel.
Liam will hyper-focus on things like space and the planets.
“Customer service is that for Daniel,” Ashley says. “Everything he has he puts into that.”
Daniel’s manager isn't the only one who's noticed.
In the year since Daniel came aboard at McDonald’s, customers have sent hundreds of messages complimenting the polite, enthusiastic young man who serves them.
“Daniel is outstanding,” reads one.
“You have found a gem,” says another.
The messages have garnered the attention of the owner of the Arden Hills, McDonald’s, former Minnesota Viking Tim Baylor.
“He literally makes people's day,” Tim says. “Daniel is what you want.”
In recognition of good service, Ashley posted Daniel’s name on the yellow sign beneath the golden arches in front of the restaurant.
“WE ARE LOVING DANIEL!!!!,” read the sign, preceded by Daniel’s signature greeting, “BA, DA, BA, DA, DA.”
Upon seeing it, a surprised Daniel experienced a rare moment of speechless glee, giddily falling backwards onto the sidewalk.
“No one quite like Daniel,” the restaurant’s owner says with a smile. He then laughs, and adds, “Anywhere.”
No more teasing. At McDonald’s, Daniel only feels respect.
“It's home,” he says. “It's a brand-new opportunity for me to be somebody in the world.
As Daniel thrives, his mother savors the ride.
“Very proud mom,” Cheryl Marshall says.
Meantime, another mom watches Daniel and thinks about her son.
“When you see somebody like Daniel,” Ashley Sicora says, “it's just kind of reassuring that it's going to be okay and he'll figure out his own way.”
Hours into his shift, Daniel hasn’t slowed a beat. He sings, he greets, he laughs with one customer after another.
“BA, DA, BA, DA, DA!”
Daniel Marshall makes every day the performance of his life.