Russia is building a ‘fun and tasty’ McDonald’s replacement

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Less than two weeks after McDonald’s reached a deal to sell hundreds of its Russian restaurants to a local buyer, a picture is beginning to emerge of how abandoned burger joints will be run without American involvement.

“The only way”, “fun and tasty”, “the same” and “free payment” are among the expressions appearing in Russian trademark filings, which the public newswire, RBC, described as requests for a new name.

It’s unclear whether the filings reflect possible new restaurant names as opposed to marketing slogans. Representatives for the fast-food chain did not comment on the filings. It was also unclear whether the filings had been submitted by the Siberian buyer of 850 local stores or by another entity.

In a Telegram post, RBC quoted a statement to the McDonald’s Russia press service: “At the moment we are working on creating a new brand and have already sent applications for the registration of several names. In the future, one of all registered names will be selected.

Still, the documents suggest Russia is taking steps to forge a new identity for restaurants out of the ashes of the Chicago-based company’s decades-long partnership with McDonald’s, experts say.

“Russia is trying to play history like ‘we can do better in our own way, and big bad Western capitalists are not needed,'” said Christine Farley, a professor at the American University who specializes in intellectual property.

By leaving Russia, McDonald’s dismantles a 30-year relationship

Hundreds of companies cut ties with Russia following Moscow’s February 24 invasion of neighboring Ukraine. Some, like energy giants BP and Shell, have canceled massive investments there. A subsidiary of Google filed for bankruptcy after its bank accounts were seized. McDonald’s chose to sell its Russian assets to a local buyer in hopes of an orderly transition that would protect jobs and minimize collateral damage to its business.

In a May 16 letter to the “McFamily” of franchisees, employees and suppliers, McDonald’s President and CEO Chris Kempczinski framed the decision to leave as a rebuke to the war in Ukraine and to the humanitarian crisis it has created. He also pointed to an “untenable” business climate that has made some basic transactions impossible amid a barrage of Western sanctions. It is the first time that McDonald’s, which is present in more than 100 countries, has abandoned a major international market, he said.

It is “impossible to ignore the humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Ukraine,” wrote Kempczinski.

A few days later, the company said in a statement that it had reached a sale and purchase agreement with a Russian licensee, Alexander Govor. Under the agreement, Govor will acquire the entire McDonald’s restaurant portfolio and operate the restaurants under a new brand. He previously operated 25 McDonald’s restaurants in Siberia.

The agreement remains subject to regulatory approval. McDonald’s Russia said last week that it plans to reopen restaurants to the public as early as June 12 under a new name to be introduced separately, according to Reuters.

A month after the start of the war, these companies are still struggling to leave Russia

It remains to be seen whether the new venture will carry the hallmarks of the brand known for Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets.

Kempczinski has made it clear that no Russian company can use McDonald’s name, logo, branding, or menu while the de-arching of its restaurants is underway. But lawyers familiar with the Russian government and legal system doubt that Russian authorities respect the intellectual property rights of American companies.

The trademark documents, reviewed by The Washington Post, were registered by a business entity called “McDonalds OOO,” a business classification similar to LLC. Several of them appear to refer to various unique aspects of how McDonald’s operates in Russia, but with a very Russian outlook, DC-based trademark attorney Josh Gerben said.

A trademark phrase roughly translates to “free payment,” a Russian saying cashiers use to indicate they’re ready to take a customer’s order, Gerben said Tuesday. Another roughly translates to “the same”.

“It shows that the successor to McDonald’s in Russia is looking to get off to a good start,” Gerben said. “It doesn’t look like they’re trying to use the McDonald’s brand in the future, but they might do something reminiscent of the past.”

Russia’s first McDonald’s opened in January 1990 when it was still the Soviet Union. The restaurant was an instant hit with Russians, and thousands of people lined up to taste a “Big Mak” for the first time in Moscow’s Pushkin Square.

In his letter, Kempczinski did not rule out a return to Russia, or specify what would need to change for McDonald’s to return.

Annabelle Chapman contributed to this report.

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