Vkusno i Tochka (“Yummy and that’s it”), the Russian successor to McDonald’s, has opened its first 15 stores in Moscow after the American fast-food giant left the country in protest against Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The departure of McDonald’s, part of a mass commercial exodus from Russia in response to the attack on its neighbor on February 24, was particularly symbolic, as the opening of the first restaurant in Moscow’s Pushkin Square on January 31, 1990 marked the beginning of the western consumer capitalism in the former heart of the Soviet Union.
30,000 Russians reportedly lined up for Big Macs and Coca-Cola that day, their first foray into mass-produced wealth.
Now rebranded with the Vkusno i Tochka logo, that flagship restaurant serves only unlicensed imitation burgers, fries, and soda, with no McFlurry in sight, though the tagline promises, “The name changes, love remains.”
“Our goal is that our guests don’t notice any difference in quality or atmosphere,” said Oleg Paroev, who heads the new store that has led McDonald’s Russian operations for seven years.
The man financing the venture is Russian billionaire Alexander Govor, who bought the 850 McDonald’s stores in the country for a fee neither side has disclosed, and kept all 62,000 employees for at least two years as part of the deal. .
Govor, who previously launched a franchise of 25 McDonald’s restaurants in his native Siberia in 2015, has said he plans to reopen all closed branches within two months and expand to 1,000 as soon as possible.
“I am very proud of the honor that the development of this venture has given me,” he said earlier this month. “I am ambitious and plan not only to open the 850 restaurants, but also to develop new ones.”
Mr Govor has pledged to invest RUB7bn (£98.63m) in the project this year, according to Reuters, although the BBC has reported that sanctioned bank Sovcombank may have backed the takeover as the tycoon lacked sufficient funds to just make the deal.
The man himself hails from the industrial city of Novokuznetsk in southwestern Siberia and made his fortune in mining, co-owning the natural resource company Yuzhkuzbassugol in his hometown.
During the era of economic liberalization under Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, Yuzhkuzbassugol was backed by Evraz, owned by former Chelsea FC boss Roman Abramovich, until its operations were suspended in 2007 in response to an industrial accident that killed 100 miners, leaving the the latter to take over the company outright.
Govor reportedly then turned his attention to oil and in 2013, acquired the Yaisky refinery, which he still co-owns through his 50 percent stake in construction company Neftekhimservis.
His other interests reportedly include a 50 percent stake in a small forestry company and 25 percent in a fishing and hunting company, according to the Interfax news agency.
He also sits on the board of directors of Inrusinvest, which has projects including a medical center and a Park Inn hotel in Novokuznetsk, and founded Sibirskaya Milyona, a meat and dairy company.
Mr. Govor is a self-proclaimed patron of the arts and an avid collector of vintage cars, of which he is said to have donated 40 to the museum in his hometown.