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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs