1990: Muscovites mad for McDonald's
The restaurant, a joint venture with the Moscow municipal government, is a triumph for George Cohon, president of McDonald's Canada. It was at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal that Cohon first approached Soviet officials about bringing the Big Mac to Moscow. Fourteen years and $50 million later, the new restaurant breaks records for highest sales and customers served on opening day.
• The McDonald's restaurant on Pushkin Square was just the first of 20 outlets scheduled for Moscow as part of the joint venture between the Moscow city government and McDonald's Canada.
• More than 27,000 Soviets applied for jobs at the Moscow McDonald's. Of those, 630 were hired.
• The restaurant had 27 cash registers and was large enough to accommodate 700 diners at a time.
• Over 200 more people worked at the suburban processing plant that produced patties, buns, frozen fries and other food for the restaurant.
• Although lining up for things was all too familiar to most Muscovites, ordering a meal at McDonald's was a new experience that required explanation. People waiting in line to try the new restaurant received brochures that described the menu, how to place an order and how to dispose of the empty cups and wrappers.
• According to the Globe and Mail, many people kept their cups and boxes as souvenirs after eating on opening day.
• A primary objective for McDonald's was that the Moscow outlet produce food that tasted the same as it might in Canada or anywhere else. To that end, it had to import many items that were unavailable in the Soviet Union, such as sesame seeds, tomato paste, apples and mustard.
• Seed potatoes were imported from the Netherlands to grow potatoes that would best approximate the ideal taste and texture of McDonald's french fries.
• "We don't have such food in the Soviet Union," engineer Irina Moskvichova told a Globe and Mail reporter on opening day. "It is all so foreign. The food is good. The service is quick. The service is polite. It is clean. It is not like a Soviet café."
• Moskvichova had travelled four hours by train to get a taste of McDonald's. That was topped by five students who flew 1,800 kilometres from Armenia.
• The Moscow McDonald's was widely seen as one of the first Western businesses to take advantage of perestroika, the Soviet Union's restructuring of its economy.
• The Pushkin Square restaurant accepted rubles (Soviet currency) only. George Cohon said he wanted Soviets to feel it was their restaurant, since average Soviets only had access to rubles.
• Another McDonald's, oriented towards foreigners and accepting hard currency (U.S. dollars), was scheduled to open nearby within a year.
• "When it opened in Russia, it was a way for people to visit the West without ever going to the West," Cohon recalled in 1999.
• As of 2002, the Pushkin Square McDonald's was still the largest and busiest McDonald's in the world. Its record for biggest opening day still stood.
• In 2005, McDonald's had 127 restaurants in 37 Russian cities.
Also on January 31:
1839: The Durham Report is submitted in London. Written by Governor General Lord Durham (John Lambton), it is a response to the 1837 rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada. Durham recommends uniting both Canadas under a responsible government, and making English the only official language.
1920: In a game against Toronto, Joe Malone of the Quebec Bulldogs sets an NHL record of seven goals in one game.
1957: The federal government proclaims the second Monday in October as Thanksgiving Day, a statutory holiday.
2001: American businessman George Gillett Jr. buys 80 per cent of the Montreal Canadiens, plus their arena, from Molson for $275 million.
Broadcast Date: Jan. 31, 1990
Guest(s): George Cohon
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Don Murray
Last updated: January 24, 2012
Page consulted on August 21, 2012
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