That Golden Touch to the Arches in Russia McDonald's Is Unsung Bearer of Western 'Civilization'

Article excerpt

When the first McDonald's opened in Moscow in 1990, it was the first direct, personal experience for tens of thousands of Soviets with the Western way of customer service.

"It was the most enjoyable day of my life," recalls a young television editor, Olga Golovina, of her first visit. Now she eats lunch nearly every day at a McDonald's near her daughter's school.

In those days, the company was an island of efficiency and quality control in a dysfunctional, state-controlled universe. It supplied itself with everything from beef to milk from its own McComplex near Moscow, and 40 percent of McDonald's employees here were from the West. The novelty of the Golden Arches on Pushkin Square has long worn off. And although Americans don't usually think of this fast-food chain as one of their highest contributions to world civilization, the impact in Russia of McDonald's has continued to spread and deepen. Now McDonald's has 10 restaurants in Moscow and two new ones in St. Petersburg. Of its 3,500 employees in Russia, only four remain non-Russians. Every day, more than 100,000 people eat at a McDonald's in Moscow; company officials claim the original one is the busiest restaurant in the world. (The new McDonald's in Beijing is physically larger, but serves fewer people per day.) The company is no longer a self-contained system selling burgers and fries to Russians. More than 100 companies in the former Soviet Union now supply the growing empire of McDonald's in Russia. "Step by step, they grow with us," says Pavel Ryabov, marketing director for McDonald's in Russia. And the McDonald's example has not been lost on the locals. A Russian fast-food chain, Russkoye Bistro, was launched by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov in 1995 following directly in McDonald's footsteps. Instead of burgers and Coca-Cola, Russkoye Bistro sells meat pastries and kvas, a yeasty traditional soft drink. Service is quick, prices are well below McDonald's, and more than 100 Russkoye Bistro outlets serve 35,000 to 40,000 people a day. "If McDonald's had not come to our country, then we probably wouldn't be here," says Vladimir Pivovarov, deputy director of Russkoye Bistro. McDonald's "caused alarm among local authorities to create something of our own." Olga Golovina, sitting with a friend in a McDonald's dining room, takes national pride that Russians answered McDonald's in a Russian style. "I'm always thinking that we're good fellows because we showed that we're not worse than McDonald's," she says. "McDonald's helped give form to the new economy," says Mr. Pivovarov. Since McDonald's arrived, he says, he has seen Russians "become better at choosing. They want Western standards of quality and taste." If McDonald's has been a model of capitalism, it has also become a source of growing business for its developing network of suppliers. …

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