After McDonald's closed all its restaurants in Russia, the "Vkusno i tochka" ("Tasty, Period") chain – a virtual clone of the famous U.S. brand – promptly opened in its place.
However, beer, mold on buns and expired cheese sauce have been spotted in the chain’s restaurants in just three weeks.
Pushkinskaya Square in Moscow was crowded in mid-June: with large numbers of people gathering for the opening of the new chain near the building where the first McDonald's restaurant in Russia opened in the 1990s.
Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin was also there to visit the opening of a restaurant of the new, oddly named chain that was supposed to replace McDonald's.
Sobyanin thanked the management for saving business and jobs, and assured the visitors that everything would be the same as before.
But it didn't work out that way. In just three weeks, prices have increased by an average of 10%, mold has been spotted in buns, and expired sauce has been served with fries.
And a couple of days ago news broke that there would be no more fries due to problems with Russia’s potato harvest.
The Russian management, although they had worked at McDonald's for years, has made some gross errors, and the chain is facing a fiasco due to the quality of its management, Ukrainian restaurateurs believe.
Russia’s sham McDonald's is not just a restaurant, but a symbol of the changes that have taken place in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Thirty years later, history is repeating itself – but in reverse.
Came in, came out
The first restaurant of the U.S. fast food chain opened in Moscow in Soviet times, in January 1990.
Russians lined up in kilometer-long queues to buy their first McDonald’s fries and cola. The people's love for the novelty of fast food ensured there was an "American dream boom" in Russia. The company opened more than 850 establishments over three decades, including 126 in Moscow alone.
The wonderful story ended on Feb. 24. After Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the company decided to exit the market. McDonald's suspended operations in early March and announced its withdrawal from Russia in mid-May.
Continuing to do business in Russia is "no longer appropriate and does not correspond to McDonald's values," the company said.
The business was sold to Alexander Govor, one of the company's local partners, who had developed the chain in Siberia on franchise terms.
For Govor, fast food is just one of his businesses. He also owns the Grand Medica chain of private clinics in Novokuznetsk, and the Park Inn hotel. But the NefteKhimService oil refinery is his main asset.
The new owner decided to restart the chain as quickly as possible, and the first restaurants opened their doors on June 12. They came up with a strange name for the establishments, "Vkusno i tochka," and an equally exotic logo, namely two sticks symbolizing French fries and an orange dot symbolizing a burger are depicted on a green background.
Together, the stylized ensemble of shapes resembles a person on all fours seen from the side, with their head near the ground and buttocks thrust into the air.
While the logo looks, well, odd, it’s the strange name that has many scratching their heads.
"It just hurts the business to name the chain like that," believes Olga Nasonova, CEO of Restaurant Consulting.
The sham McDonald’s menu is similar to the original’s one. For example, visitors can order Grand, Double Grand and Grand De Luxe burgers, nuggets, cherry pie, waffle cone, ice cream, milkshake, applesauce in the Russian McDonald's clone. Local lemonade is offered in the establishments instead of Coca-Cola products, which are not manufactured or supplied to Russia.
Dishes with surprises
"Vkusno i tochka" has already been involved in scandals three times over three weeks of operation – which is simply unheard for the original McDonald's.
At first, Russian Telegram channels posted photos, judging by which restaurants started selling beer. Later, the chain's press service denied this information, saying that the beer had been offered to visitors by former McDonald's franchisees and they had nothing to do with that.
Another visitor to a restaurant in Moscow posted a photo of a burger with mold. In addition, a burger without meat was sold to a visitor in a restaurant in Tula.
Even Russian journalist Ksenia Sobchak did not hold back from criticizing "Vkusno i tochka," who published on Telegram messenger a photo of expired sauce for fries in a restaurant on Arbat Street in Moscow.
"A follower sent a photo and at first I sat and looked at it, whether it was fake or not," Sobchak said.
"And you know, this print from a cucumber seems to say that 'Vkusno i tochka' followed by f***ing logo and f***ing name has lowered the quality of burgers to this level."
The chain's press service admitted that there were indeed expired sauces and reported that they had been withdrawn from sale.
Why does the Russian clone fail to replicate success of the original McDonald's?
Dmitriy Pogrebytskyy, co-owner of the Pesto Café chain in Ukraine, recalls how he worked at McDonald's for six-and-a-half years – rising from an ordinary employee to a restaurant manager. The chain has strict standards for management performance, product quality and service. Russia has already faced problems with this.
"They’re disrupting the concept and diluting the audience," Pogrebytskyy said.
"McDonald's is a family restaurant where children's birthday parties are celebrated. But how to do this if the next table is drinking beer?"
Nasonova adds that the problems arising in the new chain are surprising.
"All the management, technology and equipment remained," she said.
"The standards are also known. It's not clear why the new chain is making such stupid mistakes."
Nasonova believes that the owner will have to close or suffer losses if he takes such an approach to the restaurant business.
The owner, however, does not appear discouraged by all the problems: Govor has promised to increase the number of restaurants to 1,000 within five or six years.