On the 31st January 1990, fast food chain McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in the Soviet Union on Moscow’s Pushkin Square. Rather than the expected 1,000 customers on the first day, some news outlets estimated that 30,000 people passed through the doors. Even Boris Yeltsin visited the store on the opening day.
By 1990 the Iron Curtain was in tatters. The Berlin Wall – the very symbol of the East-West divide – had fallen in November the previous year, and the communist governments of other eastern European countries had fallen. McDonald’s had already opened restaurants in Belgrade, the capital of the former Yugoslavia, and the Hungarian capital Budapest in 1988. However, the expansion into the Soviet Union was evidence of the enormous changes taking place within the USSR itself. Glasnost and perestroika had already brought about enormous changes, and the Soviet government even owned a 51% stake in the new McDonald’s venture.
Interestingly, however, McDonald’s in the USSR was developed by the Canadian branch of the company, independent of the chain’s American headquarters. To keep the supply chain separate, completely separate farms and factories were developed to provide the ingredients: by the end of 1989 a reported 50 million Canadian dollars had been invested in the infrastructure.
At the time, the average monthly wage for a Russian worker was 150 roubles. When McDonald’s opened, a standard hamburger cost 1.50 roubles – the price of ten loaves of bread. Despite this, thousands of people walked through the doors of what remained the largest McDonald’s restaurant in the world until a new restaurant on the London 2012 Olympic Park opened 22 years later.