The transition from socialism to a market economy began with American hamburgers
McDonald’s, a chain of legendary American fast food restaurants, celebrates the 30th anniversary of the opening of its first Moscow restaurant – an event that became a landmark for the Soviet Union at the time of the transition from socialism to capitalism.
However, the anniversary celebration was clouded by fears by city officials over the coronavirus outbreak in neighboring China..
In the first Russian restaurant McDonald’s they were going to celebrate the holiday with the day of Soviet prices and sell hamburgers for 3 rubles – that is how much they cost in 1990. However, the event was canceled for fear of queues and crowds, which could be dangerous in the face of the outbreak of coronavirus.
Instead, thousands of visitors to the restaurant were given coupons..
The famous McDonald’s symbol, the Golden Arch, was first installed on Pushkin Square in Moscow on January 31, 1990. According to rough estimates, 38 thousand visitors lined up and stood in it for hours, hoping to taste the legendary McDonald’s hamburger.
The launch of a Moscow restaurant helped the company set a record for serving customers in one day.
The McDonald’s opening was inextricably linked to Russians’ desire for Western-style reforms as part of perestroika announced by then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev..
Despite the fact that food shortages were common in Soviet stores back then, McDonald’s never magically ran out of food supplies..
The secret was that the company agreed to establish a private plant in the USSR – a business unprecedented in those days – importing up to 80% of all the ingredients necessary for the production..
However, the then Soviet McDonald’s was far from perfect: the company operated in the USSR at a loss. The problem was the cost of food, since the average cost of lunch was half the daily wages of ordinary Soviet citizens..
Another feature was that the symbol of America brought to the Soviet Union was in fact owned by Canada..
The general director of the Canadian branch of McDonald’s, a citizen of the United States and Canada, George Cohen, first thought about the idea of opening a restaurant in the USSR after he invited representatives of the Soviet delegation to McDonald’s in Montreal during the 1976 Olympics..
Soviet guests praised the food, and, moreover, were delighted with the service.
Moscow was then preparing to host the 1980 Olympics, and was trying to find a way to feed foreign tourists with something familiar and tasty, while maintaining its own “Soviet pride”.
“As a Canadian company, we were neutral about the structure as a whole,” says Mark Karena, current CEO of McDonald’s Russia, in an interview with Voice of America..
However, the outbreak of the Cold War and the decision of the United States to boycott the Olympics in Moscow due to the invasion of Soviet troops in Afghanistan, ultimately led to the disruption of the upcoming deal..
Several years later, Gorbachev supported the idea of opening a restaurant as part of his perestroika initiative..
ABC News January 31, 1990: First McDonald’s Restaurant opens in the Soviet Union
“Opening McDonald’s was more than just opening a restaurant. It symbolized the openness of the USSR to the West, ”says Karena.
Good service is a given in Russia today, and McDonald’s is no exception. Now in Russia there are over 700 McDonald’s restaurants, 98% of products are locally produced.
“We are a Russian company, and have always been a Russian company,” says Karena, a Swiss citizen and the only foreigner who works in the management of Russian McDonald’s..
However, not all Russians love McDonald’s..
“I don’t like their fast food. I never eat it, ”says Elchin, a businessman who moved to Moscow from Baku 30 years ago. He adds that he loves homemade food..
“Ukrainian borscht, Russian dumplings, Armenian barbecue …. This is the food you enjoy. I have nothing against the USA, but I prefer the classics, “he says..