January 31, 1990: McDonald's Opens in the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union formally dissolved on December 26, 1991, but it was on January 31, 1990 that the Bolshevik dream died in all practicality. On that day, a McDonald's opened in Moscow.
The American fast food giant had petitioned the Communist Party to open a restaurant and finally received a “da” in 1988. The Moscow outlet was no ordinary Mickey D’s. It held 700 seats inside and another 200 outside and rang out customers on 27 cash registers, an appropriate super-sizing for a city of that magnitude and a rare ambassador of American consumerism. (It was the only fast food restaurant in Russia at the time.)
On the first day, the world saw that there was a demand. More than 5000 Russians lined up in Pushkinskaya Square before it opened. 30,000 customers passed through the doors on that day, setting a record for the number of patrons served by a McDonald's in a single day.
Francis X. Clines of The New York Times interviewed a pipe factory worker who said he forked over four days’ wages for a Big Mac, cheeseburger, apple pie, and two milkshakes. Customers were reportedly impressed by American customer service’s culture of politeness, a sharp contrast to Soviet stolidness.
“There is a lesson to be drawn from this for the country,'' teacher Tatyana Podlesnaya told Clines in 1990. “What is killing us is that the average worker does not know how to work and so does not want to. Our enthusiasm has disappeared. But here my meal turned out to be just a supplement to the sincere smiles of the workers.”
The Soviet Union may have fallen, but the Moscow McDonald's continues to be subjected to politics. In 2014, it was closed for “health and safety violations,” though many suspected retaliation over the United States’ sanctions against Russia over the Kremlin’s actions in the Ukraine.
As of late 2015, McDonald's had 492 locations in Russia.
Banner images via YouTube.