Bye, bye Big Mac: McDonald’s knock-off restaurants open in Russia

It may look and smell like McDonald’s but now it’s Vkusno & Tochka. The golden arches are gone, the Filet-O-Fish is just a fish burger. The Big Mac has left Russia.

A new era for the Russian fast food and economic scene dawned on Sunday, when McDonald’s restaurants opened their doors in Moscow under new Russian ownership and with the new name, which translates as “Yummy and that’s all”.

The unveiling of the rebranded outlets, more than three decades after the American civilian giant first opened its doors in Moscow in a symbolic thaw between East and West, is another grim sign of a new world order.

The reopening took place on Russia Day, a holiday honoring national pride.

The fate of the chain, which sold McDonald’s when it left the country due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, could be a test of how successfully the economy can become self-sufficient and withstand Western sanctions.

An employee of Vkusno & Tochka in the new restaurant in Moscow on Sunday. The company’s logo has a circle and two lines, which resemble the letter M. The brand says the logo is intended to represent a burger and fries. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

On Sunday, dozens of people lined up for what used to be the chain’s flagship, in Pushkin Square, in central Moscow. The outlet sported a new logo β€” a stylized burger with two fries β€” plus a tagline: “The name changes, love remains.”

The lineup was significantly smaller than the thousands of people who gathered in front of the original McDonald’s that opened there in 1990, during the Soviet era.

Vkusno & Tochka’s menu was also smaller and didn’t offer the Big Mac or other burgers and desserts like the McFlurry.

VIEW | The first Russian McDonald’s branch was opened in 1990:

Bye, bye Big Mac: McDonald's knock-off restaurants open in Russia

McDonald’s opened its first Russian branch in 1990

Russians flocked to the very first McDonald’s in the country, on Moscow’s Puskin Square.

A double cheeseburger cost 129 rubles ($2.84 Cdn), compared to about 160 rubles under McDonald’s, and a fish burger sold for 169 rubles, compared to about 190 rubles previously.

The composition of burgers has not changed and McDonald’s equipment has remained, said Alexander Merkulov, quality manager at the new company.

McDonald’s closed its Russian restaurants in March and said in mid-May it had decided to leave the country altogether.

As a sign of the rush with which the new owners had to rebrand in time for launch, much of the packaging for chips and burgers was plain white, as were drinking cups, while takeaway bags were plain brown. The old McDonald’s logo on packets of ketchup and other sauces was covered in makeshift black markings.

Bye, bye Big Mac: McDonald's knock-off restaurants open in Russia
A tray with part of the menu on Sunday at Vkusno & Tochka in Moscow. Some of the packaging is obvious due to the company’s hasty rebranding. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Sergei, a 15-year-old customer, saw little difference.

“The taste has stayed the same,” he said, eating a chicken burger and chips. “The cola is different, but nothing really changes about the burger.”

Hundreds more restaurants to open

The flagship restaurant in Moscow is one of 15 revamped stores to open initially on Sundays in and around the capital. Oleg Paroev, CEO of Vkusno & Tochka, said the company planned to reopen 200 restaurants in Russia by the end of June and all 850 by the end of the summer.

“We haven’t worked for three months,” said Ruzanna, manager of a Moscow branch that is due to open in July. “Everyone is very satisfied.”

The chain will keep its old McDonald’s interior but remove all references to its former name, said Paroev, who was named CEO of Russia McDonald’s weeks before Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops to Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Bye, bye Big Mac: McDonald's knock-off restaurants open in Russia
A worker dismantles the symbol of McDonald’s golden arches and removes signage from a drive-thru restaurant in the city of Kingisepp, Russia on Wednesday. (Anton Vaganov/Reuters)

“Our goal is that our guests do not notice any difference in quality or atmosphere,” Paroev told a press conference at the restaurant. He said the chain would keep “affordable prices”, although he added that prices are likely to rise due to inflation, but no higher than its competitors.

Siberian businessman Alexander Govor, the chain’s new owner, told Reuters it would look like the launch of something akin to McDonald’s flagship Big Mac.

“We don’t have the right to use certain colors, we don’t have the right to use the golden arches, we don’t have the right to call McDonald’s,” he said.

“The Big Mac is McDonald’s story. We’re definitely going to do something similar,” he said. “We are going to try to do something even better so that our visitors and guests like this dish.”

Bye, bye Big Mac: McDonald's knock-off restaurants open in Russia
Customers queue at the new restaurant Vkusno & Tochka in Moscow on Sunday. The restaurant uses the same equipment as the McDonald’s that were previously in the space. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Govor said up to seven billion rubles ($125.56 million) would be invested in the company, which employs more than 50,000 people, this year.

β€œThe company asked me to keep track of the workforce in the first place, to provide people with work. That’s what I’m going to do,” he added.

Govor said the company is looking for new soft drink suppliers because Coca-Cola has said it is ceasing its operations in Russia.

Moments after the press conference ended, a man stood up in front of the cameras holding a sign that read, “Bring back the Big Mac.” He was quickly escorted by the restaurant staff.

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