Russia’s Terrible New Offbrand McDonald’s
In 1998, Mikhail Gorbachev, the eighth and final leader of the Soviet Union, appeared
in a commercial for Pizza Hut.
Over the course of the commercial’s 60 seconds, the people of Russia argue over Gorbachev,
maligning him for bringing about an era of political instability and economic confusion,
but ultimately conclude that these hardships were worthwhile, because now they have…
The idea of this commercial might sound a little ridiculous, but in the context of the
Cold War, American chain restaurants had more power than nuclear submarines.
When the first McDonald’s opened in Russia in 1990, it was a big deal—it took 14 years
of negotiations, had lines stretching for blocks, and introduced t he Russian people,
for the very first time, to whatever chemicals compose a McFlurry.
But most importantly, its existence was a clear-cut political statement, and that statement
was: “USA #1 baby, hell yeah, uh… capitalism, babyyy, bald eagle.
And people took this statement pretty seriously—by the end of the 1990s, economists had started
touting the so-called “Golden Arches Theory,” which was essentially the idea that any two
countries with McDonald’s would never be at war—their economic ties to one another
would be too strong an incentive against killing each other.
This turned out to be not true almost immediately, when NATO bombed Yugoslavia in 1999 just to
wipe the smug smiles off of those academics’ faces.
Still, the general sentiment prevailed: McDonald’s represented an increasingly safe and interconnected
world; anywhere where you could get an Egg McMuffin is somewhere where you probably wouldn’t
be shot on sight by a foreign military attempting to occupy your country… that is, until Russia
started doing that a couple of months ago.
When Russia declared war on Ukraine, foreign companies started pulling out of the country
faster than I pulled out of that Walgreens parking after hitting a stroller with my car.
Apple, Netflix, Coca-Cola—if you can name a company, they probably halted operations
Shopping malls emptied out, grocery store shelves downsized, and Burger King…
well, Burger King actually lost control of Russian Burger King, who declared that no
one had the, “authority or power” to stop them, and ignored all pleas from their parent
company to shut down their restaurants.
But we’re not talking about Burger King, we’re talking about McDonald’s, and McDonald’s
did actually pull out of Russia… but only kind of.
When it first looked like McDonald’s was going to pull out of Russia back in March,
Russia went ahead and legalized patent theft.
And I’m not exaggerating, that’s literally what they did—just read the decree.
I mean, you probably can’t, but it says what I’m saying it says.
This paved the way for Russia to potentially just take over any foreign businesses that
left the country, and McDonald’s was a high priority; one Russian official pitched an
alternative that would be called Uncle Vanya’s, and it was quickly trademarked by a local
How they came up with this logo that quickly, I’ll never know.
Now, McDonald’s realized that their 847 restaurants and 62,000 employees were at risk
of just getting scooped up and sold by the government if they didn’t do so themselves.
So, in order to get their Russian restaurants off the books with minimal hassle and maximal
profit, they struck a very odd deal with a guy named Alexander Govor, a Russian businessman
who already operated a number of McDonald’s locations in Siberia.
McDonald’s would sell all 847 restaurants—the entire chain of Russian McDonald’s—to
Govor for far less than… whatever 847 McDonalds’ go for these days.
The chain would retain the same employees, the same CEO, and the same buildings, but
it would undergo a process that McDonald’s referred to as “de-arching”—a delightfully
cute term that they had in store in case any of their chains became embroiled in an illegal
The de-arching process means, essentially, that the locations would continue to operate
as McDonald’s restaurants, just without any reference to McDonald’s itself.
The company would remain the same legal entity, but it would be renamed from McDonalds LLC
to PBO System LLC; instead of referring to the restaurants as McDonald’s, they would
be called “Vkusno i tochka,” which loosely translates to “Tasty and that’s it.”
The McDonald’s colors and logos would be stripped from the restaurants and replaced
with this new design, which looks suspiciously like an ‘M,’ but is legally-speaking just
some fun shapes.
Most of the menu items had to be renamed, too—the McChicken became the Chickenburger,
the Filet-o-Fish became the Fishburger, and you can basically just intuit the rest of
the menu items.
Interestingly, Vkusno i tochka did add exactly one item to the menu that did not exist before:
I don’t know why, but they started selling shrimp.
If you wish your local McDonald’s sold shrimp, then maybe you should declare war on a European
Now, for the most part, this was a pretty painless transition—many restaurants were
able to keep operating with little downtime, and continued to serve fishburgers as if their
country never committed a series of horrible war crimes and isolated itself from the rest
of the world.
But without the massive global supply chain of McDonald’s behind them, problems were
Within a few months, people began reporting expired sauce packets, moldy food, a couple
of extra insect legs, and this particularly upsetting video of birds just kind of hanging
out on top of the buns that they were storing outside for some reason…
y’know, bad stuff.
Now, all of these reports are anecdotal, and any of them could be propaganda.
Some of them probably are.
But there’s at least one very strong indication from the restaurant itself that things aren’t
going all that smoothly, and that’s that a whole bunch of their locations can’t even
serve fries anymore.
Because of poor potato harvests in Russia this year and their newfound inability to
import potatoes, Russian McDonald’s has been struggling to secure McDonald’s simplest
and most iconic item.
Does this mean that the Russian people are doomed to a future of non-existent fries and
Not necessarily—the deal that McDonald’s struck with Govor gives them the option to
buy back their restaurants any time in the next 15 years; they said that they wouldn’t,
but they also said that the McRib is back, and look what happened with that.
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