"Welcome to Burger King," Bob Davis says into his headset while scooting over to check on the deep fryer. "Can I take your order?"

Davis, 49, is now the restaurant‚s general manager, but in his 25 years in fast food he has held just about every lower-rung job there is, starting with making sandwiches and cleaning up. He‚s done a few other things along the way, but Davis missed the interactions with people and the pace of the work in fast food, so he came back.

"I never thought I'd be in this business as long as I have," he says. "But you know how sometimes people think they were meant to do something? I think this is where I was meant to be."

A few miles away is the McDonald‚s where Ed Mosley works. Closing in on 50 years old, Mosley makes $6.50 an hour with no benefits. It's not enough to live on, but along with his pay from two other manual-labor jobs, he says he does all right.

Two men, both quite different, but each has found a home in fast food — the quickest-growing sector of the American economy which employs a hefty 2.5 percent of the civilian labor force. What is more surprising, though, is the diversity among the people working in these restaurants.

Those in the most visible fast-food jobs —people who prepare the food, take customer orders and maintain the restaurants ˆ—include college graduates and individuals with decades of customer-service experience working alongside teenagers, undocumented immigrants, former welfare recipients and unskilled laborers.

Davis clearly isn‚t the stereotypical fast-food worker. A middle-class father of four, he has worked at the same Burger King for three years. He‚s compensated well, he says. Burger King managers are paid up to $48,000 a year or more, with excellent benefits. But he says he has a simple reason for looking forward to the work: The restaurant‚s owner lets him run the place day to day. "He entrusts a $1 or $2 million business to me," he says. "As long as I do the job, I‚m my own boss."

On some levels, Ed Mosley seems, more than Davis, to fit the common assumptions about fast-food employees. His formal education stopped after high school, a one-time drug habit cost him jobs and promotions over the years and his work experience has largely been limited to a succession of entry-level food service positions, leaving him with few marketable skills. Yet Mosley also shrugs off any suggestion that he‚s stuck. „It doesn‚t make a difference where you work," he says. "What is your identity in life? People say, ŒYou're just working at McDonald's.‚ But it's not where you start off, it's where you finish."