Barack Obama used to work at Baskin-Robbins — plus 7 other celebrities who started out with fast food gigs

Barack Obama eats mint chocolate chip ice cream in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 2012
Getty Images | SAUL LOEB

Everyone has to start somewhere. For these celebrities, it was flipping burgers and scooping ice cream at fast food joints from McDonald's to Dairy Queen.

Barack Obama

Former President of the United States Barack Obama has a pretty impressive resume. But his first job as a teen in Honolulu had him wearing a cap and apron and earning minimum wage at Baskin-Robbins.

"Scooping ice cream is tougher than it looks. Rows and rows of rock-hard ice cream can be brutal on the wrists," Obama wrote on LinkedIn in 2016.

"My first summer job wasn't exactly glamorous," said Obama, "but it taught me some valuable lessons. Responsibility. Hard work. Balancing a job with friends, family, and school.

"And while I may have lost my taste for ice cream after one too many free scoops, I'll never forget that job — or the people who gave me that opportunity — and how they helped me get to where I am today," Obama wrote.

There's one other thing Obama remembered about that gig: "...a little raise would have really helped," he said at an event in Denver in 2014.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Before "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda was winning Tonys and Grammys, he was manning the cash register and doing deliveries at McDonald's.

"I did the counter from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., so I was the one you yelled at when you were too late for breakfast," Miranda told Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones in 2016.

But his first job at Mickey D's was totally "worth it," Miranda, who grew up in New York City, tweeted in May. That's because it helped him write the song "Delivery" for a revamped 2009 version of the 1978 musical "Working."

"The best thing about the job was we were the rare McDonald's that did delivery, and with delivery, you make tips. And when you're making $4.25 an hour, tips are huge. So that's what my song's about," said Miranda. "It's about the drudgery of the counter, which really like gave me anxiety."

Miranda said some of the anxiety came from making sure the money in his register added up at the end of the day.

"It had to add up within $2 otherwise your pay was docked," he told Jones. "So that's stressful.

"But delivery was free[ing]," added Miranda. "Delivery, you're walking around, you're in your outfit.

"I was 14, so I'd see like girls in summer school and I'd be like, 'Hey how are you'," he said. "I wasn't really," he added, shaking his head. "And I smelled like burgers. But that was the freeing part of the job, and so that song was about that."

Pharrell Williams

"Happy" singer Pharrell Williams may be famous for hawking sandwiches for Arby's but his first fast food foray was actually at McDonald's. It's just that the gig just didn't stick.

"I got fired from McDonald's, three times, not just once," Williams said on NBC's "Late Night With Seth Meyers" in 2015.

"I was lazy," he adds. "I was very lazy."

The singer recalled that when mopping the dining area, he would be distracted by the music playing. Of course, that eventually paid off: Williams now boasts several Grammy awards and Academy Award nominations.

Gwen Stefani

Pop star Gwen Stefani has topped music charts and stars as a guest judge on NBC's "The Voice." But her first job as a teen in Anaheim, California, was scooping ice cream at Dairy Queen.

"When I started there, I fit in my outfit," Stefani said about her gig, according to Us Weekly. "When I ended there, I did not fit in my outfit."

In fact, Stefani, her brother, Eric, and their friend John Spence hatched the idea for the band No Doubt while working together at the DQ, according to Interview Magazine.

Stefani seems to still be a fan of the brand too. In 2015, the star tweeted out a photo of a Dairy Queen ice cream cone.


Jay Leno

Another member of McDonald's star-studded alumni network is Jay Leno, host of CNBC's "Jay Leno's Garage."

In 2014, Leno took CBS's "60 Minutes" back to his old stomping grounds in Andover, Massachusetts for an inside look at his former gig.

"I'm not on 'The Tonight Show' anymore — I had to come back here," Leno joked while working the drive-thru window.

In high school, Leno snagged first prize for performing a comedy routine at a McDonalds' regional talent show. "It was the first time Jay made money telling jokes," said "60 Minutes" producer Ruth Streeter. "It was a big deal for him."

Decades later, and despite earning millions, Leno is still a fan of the Golden Arches. In fact, he told CNBC Make It in January he had used coupons to purchase a Happy Meal.

Jeff Bezos

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, according to Forbes, with a net worth of almost $120 billion. But long before he was the king of e-commerce, he learned about responsibility and customer service working at McDonald's.

"I was a cook," Bezos told Fast Company. "They wouldn't let me anywhere near the customers. This was my acned-teenager stage. They were like, 'Hmm, why don't you work in the back?'" he joked.

It was Bezos's first experience with retail, and things didn't always go well.

"My first week on the job, a five-gallon, wall-mounted ketchup dispenser got stuck open in the kitchen and dumped a prodigious quantity of ketchup into every hard-to-reach kitchen crevice," Bezos told Cody Teets for his book, "Golden Opportunity: Remarkable Careers That Began at McDonald's."

"Since I was the new guy, they handed me the cleaning solution and said, 'Get going!'" he said.

Still, the gig was worthwhile.

"You can learn responsibility in any job, if you take it seriously," Bezos explained in "Golden Opportunity."

"You learn a lot as a teenager working at McDonald's," he said. "It's different from what you learn in school. Don't underestimate the value of that!"

Jennifer Hudson and Queen Latifah

On "The Queen Latifah Show" (which aired from 2013 to 2015), actresses Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson sat down and dished about an experience they both shared: working at Burger King.

"I made burgers, I flipped burgers, I made fries, I made drinks — because this is when they still had the drink station on the inside," Queen Latifah recalled.

"I cleaned the bathrooms, like my own…you would have wanted to use that bathroom after I [cleaned it]," she added. "It's a work ethic thing. I didn't want to do it."

Hudson told Queen Latifah that she used to work the drive-thru at Burger King, where she would sing through the microphone. A beep would alert her when someone was coming, signaling it was showtime.

"That was my cue to start singing, when they came through the drive-thru," Hudson said on the show.

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McDonald's is tripling its college tuition benefit for its employees
McDonald's is tripling its college tuition benefit for its employees

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