2005 marks 15 years of McDonald’s in Russia. Did you know…?
- It took fourteen years of negotiations before Soviet authorities agreed to open a McDonald’s in Moscow. Today the city boasts 56 busy McDonald’s restaurants. 49% of the Moskva-McDonald’s venture is owned by McDonald’s of Canada Ltd.; the remainder belongs to Mosrestoranservis, a branch of the Moscow municipal government.
- More than 30,000 hungry Muscovites showed up at Pushkin Square to try the new McDonald’s on January 31, 1990, and before long 40,000 to 50,000 customers were dining there each day. In its first year, that one location served 15 million people. Those were record figures at the time, though in 1992 they were surpassed in Beijing, Warsaw, and Krakowice (Poland).
- In 1990, to meet the huge demand in Russia, McDonald’s built a $45 million food processing center in Solntsevo, to the southwest of Moscow. Now that center produces menu items for McDonald’s restaurants across Europe. Ever stop in MickeyD’s in Munich and order a “Fruit Forest Pie”? It came from Solntsevo.
- Every year, McDonalds tries out new items as part of its “Taste of the Season” program, and puts the most popular ones in the regular rotation. For instance, “Village potatoes,” those crusty wedges, caught on like wildfire; Salmon McNuggets didn’t make the cut.
- All the McDonalds restaurants in Russia serve half a million customers each day. Russians eat approximately 14 million Big Macs a year.
Good news, drivers! A smoother ride may be on the horizon…for a fee. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov recently gave the Transportation Ministry (Mintrans) permission to develop a project to construct three new turnpikes around Moscow. Private investors will be invited to bid in a yet-unannounced tender. The Ministry suggests that car owners will save money on maintenance, and the money they spend to avoid the clogged and bumpy public thoroughfares will pad the budgets of poor regional governments. The most ambitious project in the works is a Moscow-St Petersburg turnpike, to be built alongside the tracks of the high-speed train between the “two capitals.” According to estimates from the Transportation Ministry, the highway will cost 150 billion rubles, and will break even in 15 years at a rate of 25-30,000 cars a day paying one ruble per kilometer (i.e., a 600 ruble ride). Plenty of time remains to convert ashtrays into coin drawers; the federal budget for 2005 hasn’t allotted any money to the construction of this road, and since it will take 4-5 years to build, don’t expect to pay your way to St Petersburg before 2010.
An unnatural monopoly
You may need a stiff drink to believe the Russian Agriculture Ministry’s latest proposal: Minister Alexei Gordeyev wants the government to create a state monopoly for the distribution of hard alcohol in the country. Gordeyev may have been inspired by his forebears in Russia’s imperial bureaucracy, who introduced a monopoly on alcohol distillation and sales in 1896 to fight competition from cheap potato spirits produced on the sly in Poland and Lithuania. Echoing the tsar’s finance ministers, Gordeyev claims that a state monopoly on the sale of hard alcohol will help the government strengthen its control over illegal vodka production, which takes $1.1 billion a year away from the Russian Federation’s income. Rumor has it that the “necessary mechanisms” are already underway for a new law on state regulation of the sale of hard alcohol and products containing it. If, as announced, the law is approved by year-end, consumers should start stocking up now — skeptical analysts say that its impact will be to worsen the quality of legal alcohol production while increasing prices.
After a brief four-month run, the much-discussed literary weekly “Novy Ochevidets” (The New Observer) has folded, citing a sudden and total lack of funding. The failure of the young publication has been placed squarely on the already overburdened shoulders of its editor-in-chief, Sergei Mostovshchikov, whose ambition to capture the attention of Russia’s literary society simply never materialized. Instead, readers puzzled over an incoherent editorial policy, a mixed bag of belles lettres and abstruse essays about contemporary Russian speech. As the "Ochevidets" floundered for a clear raison d’être, its plush cushion of $2.5 million in startup capital was frittered away, and the magazine entered 2005 in a state of consumption. If there’s any consolation in defeat, it is that "Novy Ochevidets" managed ever so briefly to be the talk of the town.