On January 31, 1990, McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in Russia, an early sign that change was on the horizon in the USSR.
Muscovites started lining up at 4:30am on the first day to get a chance to try some famous American food and by the time the restaurant opened the line of eager customers stretched for kilometers around Pushkin Square.
At the end of the day, 30,000 customers had passed through the doors, and the store had set a McDonald’s record for most customers served on an opening day. Which is pretty amazing when you consider that a Big “Mak” in Moscow cost the equivalent of a monthly bus pass in 1990.
The 900 seat restaurant, was the biggest McDonald’s in the world at the time and was the culmination of 14 years of work by George Coh0n, the head of McDonald’s Canada, who was later named Russia’s “Capitalist Hero of Labor.”
The Moscow McDonald’s employed 600 workers that were carefully selected from 35,000 applicants. The first workers were the crème de la crème of Soviet youth: students from prestigious universities who could speak foreign languages with brilliant customers service skills were hired. This new workforce was a sharp contrast to the typical Soviet service sector, known for being dismissive, unsmiling, and cold.
Line ups continued through out 1990 and 1991 as people from other cities flocked to the McDonald’s restaurant just for a single hamburger. For the ordinary Soviet citizen during perestroika, McDonald’s offered a glimpse of what life was like in the west.
But even bigger changes were around the corner in the USSR. By the time the second McDonald’s opened in Russia in 1993, the Soviet Union no longer existed.
For more stories from the 90s, check out my podcast “History of the 90s.” It is available on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at http://www.curiouscast.ca