What It Was Like When The First McDonald's Opened In Russia

In a single generation, McDonald's conquered the world. Time reports that the golden arches first sprung up back in 1948, and by 1967, McDonald's found its way to British Columbia and Costa Rica. By the end of 1971, the fast food chain expanded to Japan, Holland, and Australia and came to South America via Brazil by 1979. In 1992, the chain reached Africa and opened its first restaurant on the continent in Morocco. By 1996, McDonald's established a location in its 100th country — Belarus.

While McDonald's carved out a huge swathe of fast food territory over the years, the company's expansions into some markets have proven much more memorable than others. The chain's first foray into the Soviet Union made headlines decades ago, and the opening left a major impact on diners who walked into the restaurant for the first time. According to National Post, over 30,000 people queued up in hopes of scoring one of the first McDonald's meals back in 1990 when the fast food chain penetrated the Iron Curtain. While the location opened in 1990, the journey from conception to building the restaurant and feeding Muscovites started back in 1976 at the Montreal Olympics.

The head of McDonald's in Canada met with a Soviet delegate to start talks about bringing the fast food chain to the Soviet Union. Due to supply issues, the restaurant needed to create their own ways to source ingredients, and the results could wow anyone.

What Russia's first McDonald's looked like

National Post reports that the very first McDonald's in Moscow glistened. The restaurant served as a beacon to the West, and the meals had a price tag equal to half a day's pay for the average employee at that time. The bathrooms sparkled, the food stocks were plentiful, and the staff constantly looked happy to see you. Some patrons even believed that the smiling staff were making fun of them. CNN had reporters on the ground when the business first opened its doors. The restaurant had seating for up to 700 patrons, and even had a replica of London's Big Ben in the dining area. The opening of the restaurant came with a dining guide, explaining the menu and offering ideas on what to order. The staff consisted of 600 McDonald's employees, and workers noted that many patrons looked particularly happy to stop by for a meal.

Soviet journalists had a very direct approach when describing this new culinary landmark. One local newsperson described the restaurant's new Moscow presence as "the expression of America's rationalism and pragmatism toward food," per History. Many local diners couldn't hold back their excitement.

Russians react to the first Moscow McDonald's

When the restaurant first opened, the world looked on with anticipation about how Russia would react to the establishment of a Western fast food restaurant in the heart of its capital. The growth of McDonald's seemed inevitable — diners loved the size of the massive milkshakes and even kept used Big Mac boxes at home as reminders of their dining experience, per The Guardian

One diner noted that they particularly wanted to try the Big Mac because they wanted the box it came in. After finishing the burger, they saved the container and their drink cup, brought the containers to work to show other employees, and reused the clamshell to hold their regular lunch, per The Washington Post. Another diner was encouraged to visit the restaurant after being gifted a coupon from his father for a Big Mac, and noted that he tried Sprite for the first time that day. Even today, diners that stood in line for hours to get their very first taste of McDonald's in Russia still claim that Russian McDonald's products taste better than their American counterparts.

In the coming years, Dunkin' Donuts, Baskin Robins, and many more Western brands came to Russia, but McDonald's opened the floodgates for culinary change.