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

Packaging without logos and a very sparse menu, with the Big Mac replaced for now by a burger as bland as it is generic, the Grand. Thus, the first restaurant of the spiritual successor of McDonald’s has reopened in Russia. The chain has been given the name Vkusno & tochka (which can be translated as “tasty and period”) by the new owner, Alexander Góvor. The businessman, who made his fortune in mining, represents a new phase of Russian capitalism: from the oligarchy created by post-Soviet privatization to those who are taking over the businesses left behind by Western companies after their hasty flight from the isolated country. his attack on Ukraine.

Govor, a former partner of the American multinational with several franchises in Siberia, told Russian agency Ria Novosti on Sunday, the day of the grand opening, that he bought the McDonald’s chain “for a symbolic price” and did not intend to invest in its extension. According to his calculations, the bet will turn a profit in less than two years.

“This is a glorious day for which we have been preparing for three weeks. We expected a large number of guests and wanted all our quality standards to meet the task,” says Ruzanna Sarkisiyán, director of another former Moscow McDonald’s, who has had a hand in the opening of the new establishment. According to his calculations, almost 2,000 customers thronged the place near Pushkinskaya Square for lunch, which is an iconic establishment because it was the first to open during the Soviet crisis. “We expect them to pass.” [este domingo] about 20,000 people. We have approximately 400 employees here,” adds Sarkisiyan.

Logistics has more than fulfilled. Outside the restaurant, the queue stretches for several tens of meters at full speed. After five minutes, the door of the establishment is 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. But this reopening does not show the same joy that the chronicles of the 1990s told.

Queue to enter the new Moscow branch, on Sunday.
Queue to enter the new Moscow branch, on Sunday. EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA (REUTERS)

“I was at the opening of the first McDonald’s three decades ago. The line was huge, it went around the block three times,” says Mijaíl Gazmánov, who has come with his grandson. “At that time it was an unknown food style, taste, style for us; It was something interesting, it was very exciting. Now we have the old thing again,” he laments when he compares both seasons. “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 friendly relations, but the capitalist world has its rules and the Russians have understood that. Now they only have hope in themselves,” he adds sadly.

“There is a huge difference from the first opening. Before, there was a prospect of another world, what was until now will not come back,” says Pável, while his wife, Olga, adds that “what is to come will be better”. Both have only gone in to browse and share the idea that three decades ago the opening was much grander, a “world stage.” The general opinion of guests is that the menu has quite a bit of variety. “He’s rich, but he’s not like he used to be. Let’s hope there will be more discs, for now it is quite small,” says Gazmanov. “It’s fine. It’s the same, only with Russian products,” says a young customer, Dmitri Shurmov.

The menu of a dozen local caterers is very simple for now. There are only three options for a burger: the burger with nothing else, the same with a slice of cheese (cheeseburger), and the great one, whose edition luxury it is rather bland and tasteless, like potatoes. As for the desserts, they are completely generic: “Caramel ice cream”, “Strawberry ice cream” and “Chocolate ice cream” on the one hand; and granite with the same nomenclature by others. At the moment, neither bags nor wrappers carry any logo. “It is true that the products do not carry a brand name. They are still deciding and we want to introduce them to our customers”, justifies the former McDonald’s CEO.

The price of the new dishes remains the same compared to the previous one, which was already increased last year due to the high inflation that affected the country. Grand Deluxe follow 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. Dozens of police cars deployed in the square since last year to prevent protests have been joined by a group of Russians protesting outside the building against the continuation of Western culture in the country. “It has to be closed. This is American food, we don’t need it. they should cook pelmeni Y borscht!”, says one of the protesters, Liubov Andrónova, an elderly woman who distributes leaflets of the National Liberation Movement. “We don’t want to be a colony,” he emphasizes as his colleague, a middle-aged man dressed in military uniform, loudly urges a Chinese journalist to point out that Russia wants nothing from the United States.

The contract Govor signed with the American multinational includes that it will not use its brands or menus and that it will preserve tens of thousands of jobs for at least two years. For its part, the fast food chain has lost 1,360 million dollars (about 1,300 million euros) due to its withdrawal from the Russian market. Many other Western companies face growing legal uncertainty in Russia. The Kremlin is now developing a law that would allow the nationalization of companies that do not maintain operations in the country, many of which had gone out of business at the beginning of the crackdown due to difficulties in transferring their revenue due to sanctions and the instability of the ruble.

Two workers, in front of a poster showing local products.
Two workers, in front of a poster showing local products. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (AFP)

At the opening of the new burger joint, the sound was heard Maria, Maria by Carlos Santana Its copyright belongs to Sony through its 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 allows venues of all kinds, from movie theaters to restaurants, to pay royalties in rubles at national banks if they choose. Another question is whether the multinationals agree.

The evolution of the new fast food chain could be a good sociological study of the power of brands in the future. For the past three months, McDonald’s had only operated in train stations and airports. The opening of Sabroso and Punto stores will be gradual. According to the new owner, these almost 850 restaurants should be ready for use within two months. Govor thus represents the new Russian “capitalist” wave.

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

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