Jim Gise has told a number of people the story of the man he saw down on his hands and knees, working on the floor of a York City muffler shop in the 1960s.

"This guy was in the corner, chipping up asphalt tile," Gise recalled. His first thought was: "Glad I'm not doing that."

The man looked like he was down on his luck and didn't have much money.

But Gise took a second look and realized he knew the man. It was his uncle, Leonard "Len" McDonald Sr., and the two chatted for a few minutes.

"Len starred me straight in the eye and said he was proud of the job he was doing," Gise said.

That short exchange of words and how McDonald turned it all around never left Gise.

In a short time, McDonald had gathered the money and funding to open one of York County's most well-known restaurants - The Hill on South Queen Street in Spring Garden Township.

McDonald died Sunday. He was 91.

Restaurateur: The life of a restaurateur is what McDonald relished, his family said.

"He loved the restaurant business. He loved people coming in and serving them," said one of his sons, Leonard McDonald II.

In the 1950s, the elder McDonald owned the Monkey Bar, in a building that was later razed to make way for the York County Judicial Center, on North George Street in York City.

The Monkey Bar was on the first floor and the family of then four lived on the second and third floors, said Michele Brininger, Len McDonald's daughter.

When Brininger was about 11 and Leonard McDonald II was about 9, a fire broke out in the bar, sending smoke into the living quarters while their parents were out.

The McDonalds returned home, and Len McDonald tried to run into the burning building to get to his children, Brininger said.

"He wanted to come in and the firefighters had to restrain him," she said. "He wanted to rescue us."

The children got out safely, Brininger said.

Len McDonald is also survived by a second son, Michael McDonald, according to his obituary.

According to the obituary, calling hours will be from 6 to 8 p.m. today [ggr: Friday: ]at Etzweiler Funeral Home, 1111 E. Market St. in York City.

More sides: It was The Hill restaurant, the current location of Crimson American Grill, where Len McDonald made his name in York's restaurant scene.

He operated the restaurant from the 1960s to about 1982, the younger McDonald said. Leonard McDonald Jr. said he has fond memories of spending time at the restaurant and attending staff Christmas parties.

"His generosity is something I'll remember for a long time," he said.

To some people, Len McDonald was a loud, boisterous man who bragged about his success. To others, he was the kind man who would do anything for anyone, Gise said.

For Gise, Len McDonald was both and was a man who was larger than life.

"Len McDonald was an enigma," Gise said. "If you only saw him from one perspective, you're missing out on the full picture."

- Reach Greg Gross at