'It's beautiful!' Incredible archive film shows reactions to first-ever Russian McDonald's

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'It's beautiful!' Incredible archive film shows reactions to first-ever Russian McDonald's

Moscow: Russians react to first McDonald's opening in 1990The world's most famous fast-food restaurant has permanently left Russia after trading in

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Moscow: Russians react to first McDonald’s opening in 1990

The world’s most famous fast-food restaurant has permanently left Russia after trading in the country for more than 30 years. It comes after it temporarily suspended its 850 outlets in March following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. McDonald’s said its decision was motivated by the “humanitarian crisis” and “unpredictable operating environment” caused by the war.

For many inside and out of Russia, it marks a step backwards to the days of the Cold War and the Soviet Union, when the USSR and its constituent members were cut off from the rest of the world.

The opening of the first McDonald’s restaurant, while seemingly trivial, marked a turning point in the history of the Cold War and a thawing of relations between East and West.

While it was in the dead of winter — January 31, 1990 — people came out in their droves to Pushkin Square to taste McDonald’s for the first time in their lives.

Camera crews from across the world flew in to film the big day and talk to Muscovites who had braved the cold, including CBC News.

McDonald's: The fast-food chain has officially exited Russia

McDonald’s: The fast-food chain has officially exited Russia (Image: GETTY/Youtube/CBC)

Russia: The company says it has pulled out due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis and war in Ukraine

Russia: The company says it has pulled out due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis and war in Ukraine (Image: GETTY)

One young man they spoke to, barely out of his teenage years, with a red mark on his right cheek and dark circles beneath his eyes, had bought a Big Mac, and said: “It’s very beautiful.”

He conceded, however: “I expected more, I think.”

Another tired-looking woman was overjoyed at the meal: “We’re all hungry in this city, we need more of these places, there’s nothing in our stores or restaurants.”

But an elderly man was more frank in his assessment: “I don’t like it at all — it’s not Russian.”

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'It's beautiful' The boy described his meal as beautiful, but said he 'expected more'

‘It’s beautiful’ The boy described his meal as beautiful, but said he ‘expected more’ (Image: Youtube/CBC)

The price tag the food came with was, for the time, extremely expensive and disproportionate to a person’s wage: a Big Mac, fries and a drink was the equivalent of half a day’s wages.

Some were unhappy with the introduction of the chain food outlet, protesting its arrival outside, with one Muscovite wrapped up in a long sherpa trench coat and scarf, shouting: “Seven or eight rubles for lunch? They’re ripping us off!”

The camera pans to a teenager who, after buying his milkshake, had dropped it on the floor, and feared the repercussions.

However, he said: “I spilled my milkshake and I thought they’d bawl me out, instead, they gave me another one!”

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Training: New employees of the restaurant are trained, Moscow, 1990

Training: New employees of the restaurant are trained, Moscow, 1990 (Image: GETTY)

Lack of food: This lady said Moscow at the time had a dearth of food in its shops and restaurants

Lack of food: This lady said Moscow at the time had a dearth of food in its shops and restaurants (Image: Youtube/CBC)

One young woman, a fresh employee of the chain, talked of how the staff were expected to offer a good service with a smile — something which she said confused many customers: “I smile at anybody, and they say, ‘Oh, what’s wrong? I wonder what has happened, why do you smile?’ They think that I’m laughing at them.”

With the McDonald’s location — near to Pushkin Square — George Cohoe, then-President of McDonald’s Canada who had a major role in opening the shop, waxed lyrical in honour of the legend of Russian literature: “I think [Pushkin] would probably write a poem saying that in this day and age it’s nice when the people can come out and get meat, bread, potatoes and milk of the highest quality.”

Just a year after McDonald’s opened in Moscow, the Soviet Union collapsed and Russia opened up its economy to the world.

More than three decades later, however, and that story has come to an end.

Soviet Union: It marked a turning point in history, a thawing of relations between East and West

Soviet Union: It marked a turning point in history, a thawing of relations between East and West (Image: GETTY)

End of an era: For many young Muscovites the introduction of McDonald's marked a new chapter

End of an era: For many young Muscovites the introduction of McDonald’s marked a new chapter (Image: GETTY)

In a message to staff and suppliers, McDonald’s chief executive Chris Kempczinski, said: “This is a complicated issue that’s without precedent and with profound consequences.

“Some might argue that providing access to food and continuing to employ tens of thousands of ordinary citizens, is surely the right thing to do.

“But it is impossible to ignore the humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Ukraine.

“And it is impossible to imagine the Golden Arches representing the same hope and promise that led us to enter the Russian market 32 years ago.”

Gone... for now? McDonald's has kept its trademark in Russia suggesting it may return in the future

Gone… for now? McDonald’s has kept its trademark in Russia suggesting it may return in the future (Image: GETTY)

McDonald’s said it would sell all its sites to a local buyer and would begin what it described as the process of “de-arching” the restaurants which involves removing its name, branding and menu.

It will, however, retain its trademarks in Russia, suggesting that it hopes to return in the future.

The company has said it will seek to ensure all 62,000 employees are paid until any sale is completed and that they have “future employment with any potential buyer”.

According to the BBC, McDonald’s has said it will write off a charge of up to $1.4billion (£1.1billion) to cover the exit from its investment.



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