Museum News

Julie and Bob Dobski -- 2024 History Makers

March 27th, 2024

Is a business all about profit? Not to Bob and Julie Dobski, who built their businesses with a family atmosphere, concern about their workers, and nurturing people to grow together.

The two grew up in Chicago’s Logan Square, where Bob’s dad operated a grocery store, Edmund’s, and Julie’s dad drove a CTA bus. Being in Chicago, the streets were the dividing lines, as each belonged to a different parish and went to different parochial schools.

Service jobs were their calling. Eight-year-old Bob helped at the family grocery store. Julie, the second oldest of eight children, aided in family childcare, soon working the Woolworth’s lunch counter. Julie’s aunt worked at Edmund’s and soon Bob and Julie were acquainted, engaged in 1973 and married a year later.

Edmunds had expanded to three stores in Chicagoland. The newlyweds lived in Arlington Heights. As big box stores spread, the family grocery store was a dying species. Bob had two brothers with McDonald’s franchises, so they applied for and opened the first McDonald’s in Farmington, Missouri.

Coming from America’s Second City to an 8,000-population town was quite a contrast, but they were soon community stalwarts. Besides adjusting to a smaller community, allegiances shifted. Bob quips that he didn’t know “baseball existed after September” and he found that America’s pastime was played in October, as their loyalty shifted from the Cubbies to the St. Louis Cardinals.

With little cultural life, the two participated in the “One Nighters” theatrical group, and later brought the concept to Bloomington-Normal. McDonald’s encouraged community involvement, and Julie and Bob were soon active in local charities. Julie helped start the Miss Farmington pageant, and Bob served as Chamber of Commerce President and brought Ozzie Smith of the Cardinals to speak at Farmington schools.

In 1989 McDonald’s beckoned Julie and Bob to Bloomington-Normal to manage the restaurants here, enlarging the local franchise to 11 locations, including McLean and Gibson City. The community involvement they practiced in Farmington proceeded at warp speed in McLean County.

Both Bob and Julie have served as McLean County Chamber of Commerce President. Julie led one United Way campaign, serving as board president twice, and Bob served two terms as an Illinois State University trustee. Together they serve with the Salvation Army’s Safe Harbor and the Holiday Spectacular regularly features the Dobski Dancers. Julie is very involved with Rotary and was District 6490 Governor from 2019-2020 and chairs ISU’s College of Business Advisory Board. Their home was expanded for more social space, which hosts community events, fundraisers and even weddings for special friends.

They are always open to new ventures; in 2004 Julie launched Little Jewels Learning Center, now in three locations with over 150 staff and serving approximately 450 children. The two sold their McDonald’s restaurants in 2017. Bob launched RobDob’s in 2019, just before the COVID epidemic. The restaurant survived the pandemic and flourished as a “taste of Chicago” with its décor and fine dining menu.

Besides their four children, “family” is the recurring word that reflects their business philosophy. “You create a family of employees,” Bob explained, “that’s what made us successful.”  Julie adds that “we love to motivate and develop our people, treat people like you like to be treated.”  That business and community loyalty, plus, according to Bob, “Julie’s inability to say no,” has gained the two loyalty and recognition.

Their community recognition reflects that service. They were 2013 Philanthropists of the Year and are both McLean County Chamber of Commerce Legacy Award winners. Julie was named a YWCA Woman of Distinction, received the Chamber’s Athena award, and was inducted into the ISU College of Business Alumni Service Hall of Fame. A proud moment for Julie was receiving an honorary ISU doctorate in 2016.

With their work ethic and community appreciation, they did more than create businesses, they enriched McLean County. “We’ve been blessed, we’ve been lucky,” Julie noted, “I like to think we made a difference.”  “It’s the people,” Bob adds, “you empower the people around you to do more – make everybody successful and support them.”

Mike Matejka

2nd Vice President