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The new version of McDonald’s in Russia offers little variety: “We have the old again” | Economy

Packaging without logos and a very sparse menu where the Big Mac has been replaced, for the time being, by a hamburger as bland as it is generic, the Grand. Thus has reopened the first restaurant of the spiritual successor of McDonald’s in Russia. The chain has been renamed as Vkusno & tochka (which can be translated as srough and point) by its new owner, Alexánder Góvor. The businessman, who made his fortune from mining, represents a new phase of Russian capitalism: from the oligarchy formed by post-Soviet privatizations to those who are taking over the businesses left behind by Western companies after their hasty flight from a country isolated by their offensive on Ukraine.

Góvor, a former partner of the American multinational with several franchises in Siberia, told the Russian agency Ria Novosti this Sunday, on the day of his big premiere, that he bought the McDonald’s network “for a symbolic price” and does not plan to invest in his extension. According to his calculations, the bet will be profitable in less than two years.

“It is an impressive day for which we have prepared for three weeks. We anticipated a huge number of visitors and we wanted all our quality standards to be up to the task”, says Ruzanna Sarkisiyán, director of another former Moscow McDonald’s who has lent a hand in the opening of the new establishment. According to her calculations, almost 2,000 customers crowded the place near Pushkinskaya Square at lunchtime, a symbolic establishment because it was the first to open in the throes of the Soviet Union. “We anticipate that they will pass [este domingo] about 20,000 people. We have approximately 400 employees here,” adds Sarkisiyan.

Logistics has more than fulfilled. Outside the restaurant, the line of several tens of meters advances at full speed. In five minutes the doors of the establishment are crossed, and once inside the numerous boxes it takes less than 10 minutes to deliver the menu. “The name changes, but the love remains,” reads a huge sign outside the store. However, in this reopening the same joy is not seen that the chronicles of 1990 told.

The queue to enter the new Moscow establishment, this Sunday.
The queue to enter the new Moscow establishment, this Sunday. EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA (REUTERS)

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“I was at the opening of the first McDonald’s three decades ago. The queue was gigantic, it went around the block three times, ”says Mikhail Gazmanov, who has come accompanied by his grandson. “That time it was for us an unknown style of food, of taste, of style; It was something interesting, it was very exciting. Now we have the old again”, he laments when comparing both eras. “The situation cannot get worse. Before there was no distinction, we Russians were innocent, we thought that with the fall of communism Europe would come and we would maintain a friendly relationship, but the capitalist world has its rules and the Russians have understood it. Now they only have hope in themselves, ”he adds ruefully.

“There is a huge difference with the first opening. Before, there was the prospect of a different world, what existed until now will not return”, says Pável, to which his wife, Olga, adds that “what will come will be better”. Both have only entered to browse and share the idea that three decades ago the opening was much more spectacular, “a world milestone.” The general opinion of visitors is that the menu is quite short on variety. “He’s rich, but he’s not like before. Let’s hope there will be more dishes, for now it is quite small,” says Gazmanov. “It’s okay. It’s the same, only with Russian products,” says a young customer, Dmitri Shurmov.

The menu of the dozens of local counters is very simple for now. There are only three options for hamburgers: the hamburger with nothing else, the same with a slice of cheese (cheeseburger), and the Great, whose version deluxe it is quite tasteless and bland, like potatoes. As for the desserts, they are totally generic: “Caramel ice cream”, “strawberry ice cream” and “chocolate ice cream” on the one hand; and granitas with the same denomination by another. At the moment, neither bags nor packaging bear any logo. “It is true that the products do not carry a brand. They are still deciding and we want to present them to our customers”, justifies the director of the former McDonald’s.

The prices of the new dishes remain the same compared to the previous ones, already revised upwards last year due to the high inflation that affected the country. A Grand Deluxe accompanied by a Coca-Cola Zero and some small potatoes cost 343 rubles, about five euros at the official exchange rate.

protest at the gates

The opening of the restaurant coincided with the celebration of Russia Day, the anniversary of the country’s independence from the Soviet Union. The dozens of police vans deployed in the square since last year to prevent demonstrations have been joined by a group of Russians protesting outside the premises against the continuation of Western culture in the country. “It has to be closed. It’s American food, we don’t need it. They should cook pelmeni and borsh!” declares emphatically one of the protesters, Liubov Andrónova, an elderly woman who distributes pamphlets of the National Liberation Movement. “We don’t want to be a colony,” she stresses as a colleague of hers, a middle-aged man dressed in military uniform, loudly urges a Chinese reporter to point out that the Russians want nothing from the United States.

The agreement signed by Góvor with the American multinational implies that it will not use its brands or menus and that it will preserve the tens of thousands of jobs for at least two years. For its part, the fast food chain has recorded losses of 1,360 million dollars (about 1,300 million euros) for its departure from the Russian market. Many other Western companies face growing legal uncertainty in Russia. The Kremlin is currently developing a law that will allow the nationalization of companies that do not maintain their activity in the country, and many of them had suspended their work at the beginning of the offensive due to difficulties in moving their income due to sanctions and the instability of the ruble.

Two employees in front of the poster that shows the local products.
Two employees in front of the poster that shows the local products. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (AFP)

At the opening of the new hamburger establishment, the sound of the Maria, Maria by Carlos Santana. Its copyright belongs to Sony through the EMI-Blackwood imprint. Interestingly, both the Japanese multinational and Universal and Warner have closed their offices in Russia and some stores and restaurants have begun to stop reproducing their songs due to difficulties in paying for their licenses due to international sanctions. In response, the Kremlin has pushed through another law that will make it legal for all kinds of venues, from movie theaters to restaurants, to pay royalties in rubles at national banks if they so wish. Another question is whether the multinationals will accept.

The evolution of the new fast food chain could be a good sociological study on the power of brands in the future. In the last three months, McDonald’s had only operated at train stations and airports. The opening of the premises tasty and period it will be gradual. According to its new owner, the nearly 850 restaurants should be up and running within two months. Góvor thus symbolizes the new Russian “capitalist” wave.

The businessman made his fortune from the 1990s privatizations undertaken by the Boris Yeltsin government by acquiring some mines in his native Novokuznetsk region. After his closure due to an accident with more than a hundred deaths in 2007, he sold the business to the Evraz of the oligarch Roman Abramovich and moved his money to oil. Later, in 2015, he took McDonald’s franchises to remote parts of Siberia. Now, many wealthy Russians could follow in his footsteps and seize deals left behind by Western companies. Only in the last two weeks have firms such as Allianz, Marriott, Shell and Starbucks, among others, announced their departure.

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