News / Europe

McDonald's Still Thriving in Russia After 20 Years

McDonald's crew and founder at the opening in Pushkin Square, 31 Jan 1990
McDonald's crew and founder at the opening in Pushkin Square, 31 Jan 1990

McDonald's, the U.S. based food service giant, has marked 20 years of business in Russia. The Pushkin Square McDonald's, the first outlet in the country, is still the busiest in the world. 

It took 14 intense years of negotiations for McDonald's to get entry into the Soviet Union. 

And as the company marked the 20th anniversary of the opening of the first landmark restaurant under Soviet rule in 1990, CEO James Skinner said McDonald's will expand by 45 outlets in Russia by the end of this year.

George Cohon founded McDonald's in Russia and Canada. He says discussions were very slow, not to mention painful.

"We took our time; we had to explain what McDonald's is. There were many levels of pessimism. First level was you will never make the deal. Well it took us 14 years, but we made it," said Cohon.  "Next level, was well, you won't get good employees. And my answer to that one always was who wins the Olympics? Who gets the most medals in the Olympics? The former Soviet Union. And then the one that really made me laugh. It won't last. You're gonna open and you're going to go away."

In 1990, the Soviet Union was in shambles, the economy was collapsing and political turmoil was rife.

Khamzat Khasbulatov started out as manager of the country's flagship store at Pushkin Square and is now president of McDonald's Russia.

He says the political system was entirely different, the economy was different, the country was named differently. It was virtually impossible to predict what the future held. Even the currency was not convertible because there was hyperinflation.

Despite the odds patrons lined up, some for nearly 10 hours in sub-freezing temperatures, to get a glimpse of the American fast-food icon.

Natalya Kolesknikova told Russian State Television, that McDonald's offered her the first taste of freedom, in a closed country.

She says it was like going to a major event and that people from all over Moscow, and even outside of the city, drove for the opening. She says McDonald's played a very important role in Russia and that when guests came to visit, she showed them two things,  the Kremlin and McDonald's.

Kolesnikova's attitude towards the restaurant is shared by many Russians. The location at Pushkin Square is the most popular McDonald's in the entire world.  Over the past 20 years, it has served more than 130 million customers.

So what makes the fast-food chain so popular in the former Soviet Union?  Cohon says McDonald's did something that Communist officials had consistently failed to do.

"I think that we delivered what we promised," he said.  "We said we could bring quality food and clean surroundings at a price people could afford and we did that."

When Cohon was asked whether the burger giant ever had to adapt or compromise its tastes to sell its products, he replied.

"A Big Mac is a Big Mac is a Big Mac anywhere around the world. The taste is the taste," he said.  "One or two products maybe different, but it should be the same taste around the world."

And apparently Russians like the Big Mac. McDonald's serves nearly one million customers daily.   As a result, the company has big plans for the future.

"We will invest in 2010 more than we ever have in the past," said Denis Hennequin, president of McDonald's Europe.  "2009 record year but we will grow investment by 20 percent. Russia will be leading with a record number of openings."

Cohon says he's not surprised by McDonald's success and he expects that it will continue.

"Once they tasted it I always thought that they'd love it," he said.  "They vote with their feet and they walk in here more than anywhere else."

The company now runs restaurants in 60 Russian cities and plans to spend $135 million on its expansion there this year.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs