The first McDonald’s in Moscow that drove the city mad, 1990

It's hard to believe nowadays that thousands of people would be willing to stand outside in the cold for hours just to try McDonald's hamburgers. But when the first McDonald's arrived in Moscow in 1990, the whole city went crazy.

The Moscow McDonald's Initiative was a joint venture between McDonald's of Canada and the Moscow City Council. A plan was first conceived when McDonald's Canada founder and CEO George Cohn met with Soviet Union officials at the '76 Summer Olympics in Montreal. And almost a quarter century later, on January 31, 1990, it became a reality.

The Russian capital's inaugural McDonald's set a record for most customers by serving over 30,000 hungry punters on the first day of its opening. McDonald's Budapest's main branch previously set a record with 9,100 customers.

Thousands of Muscovites flocked to the new burger joint, forming lines several kilometers long in the center of Moscow on Pushkinskaya Square. The crowd was so great that hundreds of policemen were sent to control the disturbance, just like security at rowdy football matches.

At the time of its construction, it was the largest McDonald's restaurant in the world. A 900-seat location with a staff of approximately 600 workers that was carefully selected from 35,000 applicants.

As a result, the first workers were the crme de la crme of Soviet youth: students from prestigious universities who could speak foreign languages ​​with superb customer service skills were hired.

This new workforce was the exact opposite of the typical Soviet service sector, known for being dismissive, smiling and cold. The Soviet people were so accustomed to rude, ludicrous service that they were completely shocked when faced with polite manners and smiling faces. In fact, customers felt so uneasy while being served by someone smiling that McDonald's heads told their employees to smile less.

To the ordinary Soviet citizen during perestroika, McDonald's offered a glimpse of life (and eating out) above the Iron Curtain. The people of the Soviet Union had heard so much about Western culture that they could not get close to it, so Soviet citizens went really mad when the golden arches in Moscow were shaken.

However, McDonald's was not cheap in those days. In a country where the average salary was about 150 rubles per month, a large "Mac" was selling for 3.75 rubles. A Big Mac costs about the same as a monthly bus/subway pass.

Summer arrived, but the lines kept on increasing. People from other cities were coming to McDonald's restaurants just for a hamburger. “We stood under the melting sun for about eight hours,” recalled photographer Mitya Kushelevich. “It was not that much of a problem as we were used to standing in line for days to get the monthly ration of sugar and tea.”

“Once we were blown away by the number of young cashiers behind the huge counter, smiling, moving like bees, serving food one after the other.

Our fat old ladies in white gowns in front of empty shelves, nothing like a pyramid of canned food dusted as window dressing. "I still remember how big the milkshake looked and I didn't know how to hold a Big Mac with my little hands."

In 1991 and 1992, long lines could still be seen and people had to wait for hours to enter. Crowds outside Moscow restaurants eventually dropped slightly to 31,1990, when more McDonald's opened in Russia.

The unveiling of the next McDonald's restaurant was also considered a major landmark. President Boris Yeltsin also attended the opening ceremony of the second restaurant in 1993.


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