The rebranding of the outlets, three decades after the U.S. burger giant first opened in Moscow in a symbolic thaw between East and West, is once again a stark sign of a new world order.
On Sunday, scores of people queued outside what was once McDonald’s flagship restaurant in central Moscow. The outlet sported a new logo – a stylized burger with two fries – plus a slogan reading: “The name changes, love stays”.
A double cheeseburger was going for 129 roubles ($2.31) compared with roughly 160 under McDonald’s and a fish burger for 169 roubles, compared with about 190 previously.
The queue was significantly smaller than the thousands of people who thronged to the original McDonald’s opening there in 1990 during the Soviet era. Vkusno & tochka’s menu was smaller and did not offer the Big Mac and some other burgers.
On Sunday, a new era for Russia’s fast-food and business scene began when McDonald’s locations in Moscow reopened under new Russian ownership and a new brand that translates to “Tasty and that’s it.”
The fortunes of the revamped chain, which McDonald’s sold when it exited the country over the conflict in Ukraine, could provide a test of how successfully Russia’s economy can become more self-sufficient and withstand Western sanctions.
The composition of burgers has not changed and the equipment from McDonald’s has remained, said Alexander Merkulov, quality manager at the new company. Sergei, a 15-year-old customer, saw little difference.
“The taste has stayed the same,” he said as tucked into a chicken burger and fries. “The cola is different, but there really is no change to the burger.”
The flagship Moscow restaurant is among 15 rebranded outlets that will initially open in and around the capital on Sunday. Oleg Paroev, chief executive 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. 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 ambiance,” Paroev told a media conference in the restaurant. He said the chain would keep “affordable prices” but did not rule out slight rises in the near term. McDonald’s closed its restaurants in Russia on March 14 and said in mid-May it decided to leave the market. “For three months we did not work,” said Ruzanna, manager of a Moscow branch that will open in July. “Everyone is very pleased.”
Alexander Govor, the new owner of the chain, said up to 7 billion roubles ($125.56 million) would be invested this year in the business, which employs 51,000 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 was looking for new suppliers of soft drinks as Coca-Cola, which has said it was suspending its business in Russia.
Moments after the press conference finished 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.