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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports on how one band is bringing Yiddish tango to Los Angeles.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid