Bye, bye Big Mac: McDonald's knock-off restaurants open in Russia
Company says it plans to create its own 'better' equivalent of the iconic burger
It might look and smell like McDonald's, but now it's Vkusno & tochka. The golden arches are gone, the Filet-O-Fish is simply a fish burger. The Big Mac has left Russia.
A new era for Russia's fast-food and economic scene dawned on Sunday, as McDonald's restaurants flung open their doors in Moscow under new Russian ownership and with the new name, which translates as "Tasty and that's it."
The unveiling of the rebranded outlets, more than three decades after the American burger giant first opened its doors in Moscow in a symbolic thaw between East and West, is once again a stark sign of a new world order.
The reopenings took place on Russia Day, a holiday celebrating national pride.
The fortunes of the chain, which McDonald's sold when it exited the country over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, could provide a test of how successfully the economy can become more self-sufficient and withstand Western sanctions.
On Sunday, scores of people lined up outside what was formerly the chain's flagship restaurant in Pushkin Square, central Moscow. The outlet sported a new logo — a stylized burger with two fries — plus a slogan reading: "The name changes, love stays."
The lineup was significantly smaller than the thousands of people who thronged to the original McDonald's that opened there in 1990, during the Soviet era.
Vkusno & tochka's menu was also smaller and did not offer the Big Mac or some other burgers and desserts, such as the McFlurry.
A double cheeseburger was going for 129 rubles ($2.84 Cdn), compared with roughly 160 rubles under McDonald's, and a fish burger was selling for 169 rubles, compared with about 190 rubles previously.
The composition of burgers has not changed and the equipment from McDonald's has remained, said Alexander Merkulov, quality manager at the new company.
McDonald's closed its Russian restaurants in March and said in mid-May that it had decided to leave the country altogether.
In a sign of the haste with which the new owners have had to rebrand in time for the launch, much of the packaging for fries and burgers was plain white, as were drink cups, while takeout bags were plain brown. The old McDonald's logo on packets of ketchup and other sauces was covered over with makeshift black markings.
Sergei, a 15-year-old customer, saw little difference, though.
"The taste has stayed the same," he said as he tucked into a chicken burger and fries. "The cola is different, but there really is no change to the burger."
Hundreds more restaurants to open
The flagship Moscow restaurant is among 15 rebranded outlets that are initially opening in and around the capital on Sunday. Oleg Paroev, CEO of Vkusno & tochka, said the company was planning to reopen 200 restaurants in Russia by the end of June and all 850 by the end of the summer.
"For three months we did not work," said Ruzanna, manager of a Moscow branch that is due to open in July. "Everyone is very pleased."
The chain will keep its old McDonald's interior but will expunge any references to its former name, said Paroev, who was appointed Russia McDonald's CEO weeks before Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.
"Our goal is that our guests do not notice a difference either in quality or ambience," Paroev told a news conference in the restaurant. He said the chain would keep "affordable prices," though he added that prices would likely rise due to inflation, but not higher than its competitors.
Siberian businessman Alexander Govor, the chain's new owner, told Reuters that it would look to launch something similar to McDonald's flagship Big Mac.
"We don't have the right to use some colours, we don't have the right to use the golden arches, we don't have the right to use any mention of McDonald's," he said.
"The Big Mac is the story of McDonald's. We will definitely do something similar," he said. "We will try to do something even better so that our visitors and guests like this dish."
Govor said up to seven billion rubles ($125.56 million) would be invested this year in the business, which employs more than 50,000 people.
"The corporation asked me to, first of all, keep the headcount, to provide people with work. That's what I'm going to do," he added.
Govor said the company is looking for new suppliers of soft drinks because Coca-Cola has said it's suspending its business in Russia.
Moments after the news conference ended, a man stood up in front of the cameras holding a sign that read "Bring back the Big Mac." He was swiftly escorted out by restaurant staff.