What could possibly replace McDonald's iconic Golden Arches? In the case of its new Russian spinoff, the answer appears to be orange backslashes.
The launch of Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine prompted McDonald's to withdraw from the country after more than 30 years, a process that entailed pausing its operations and "de-arching" its restaurants in an undisclosed deal secured with a new Russian buyer.
Last month, the company announced that Alexander Govor, a Siberian coal baron who had previously licensed 25 McDonald's franchises, would acquire the rest of its 850 Russian locations and operate them under a new brand. Under the acquisition deal, Govor also promised to retain and pay McDonald's 62,000 Russian employees for at least two years.
At the launch of his flagship store on Moscow's Pushkin Square Sunday, Govor unveiled the franchise's new name — "Vkusno I Tochka," which translates to English as "Delicious, that's all" — to the public before a nationwide rollout.
The initial reactions were mixed.
Local university student Ilya Konsenberg said the burgers and fries tasted the same — a claim company representatives have maintained amid assurances that McDonald's suppliers of Russian beef, chicken and potatoes remain unchanged.
"It's just different packaging," noted Konsenberg.
Fellow patron Ludmilla Rudenko, however, said she felt like she was at a funeral. Clutching an empty hamburger wrapper, she expressed fears that the chain she and her family have come to love might resort to old Soviet traditions of poor service — and even poorer quality food.
"Have you ever eaten in a Soviet restaurant?" she asked. "You never knew if the meat you were getting was lamb, pork ... or your neighbor's cat."
The company opened its first 15 locations in the Moscow region on Sunday, with another 200 set to roll out across the country later this month.
The company released its new logo before its name
Sistema PBO, which manages the company, revealed its new logo on Thursday.
It depicts a small red circle and two orange lines (aka a burger and pair of fries) against a green background, which the spokesperson said represents the quality of the chain's products and service. Altogether, the three shapes somewhat resemble an abstract letter "M."
Twitter users have noted its similarity to the logos of other popular brands, including the Japanese chain Mos Burger, Marriott hotels and the Warner Brothers logo from 1972. Others compared it to a drowning stick figure, cricket bats and the flag of Bangladesh.
The new name remained a surprise until Sunday's reopening. Citing the state newspaper Izvestia, the BBC previously reported that the chain had submitted eight potential names to the Russian government agency in charge of intellectual property, including "Tot Samyi," which translates to "The Same One," and "Svobodnaya Kassa," meaning "available cash register."
Of course, classic menu items will have to be rebranded, too. The Filet-O-Fish will be called a "Fish Burger" and burgers will be known as "Grand" rather than "Royal," according to the Moscow Times.
The McDonald's app changed its name to "My Burger" for Russian users on Friday, but the chain's press team said the change was only temporary, according to Reuters. The app's home page reportedly featured a slogan reading: "Some things are changing, but stable work is here to stay."
Anna Patrunina, one of the first McDonald's hires in the Soviet Union and the vice president of operations for the new spinoff, said the primary difference between the two companies is Russian confidence.
"Thirty two years ago we were so worried because we didn't know how it would go," she said. "But today we know exactly what we're doing."
Indeed, not much else is changing: It's employing the same restaurant staff, and Govor has said there's no reason to reinvent the wheel of McDonald's "world famous" system.
Still, McDonald's exit from Russia is significant
Kristy Ironside, an economic historian of Russia at McGill University, told NPR's All Things Considered that the exit of the Golden Arches is in many ways as symbolic as their arrival in 1990.
International newspapers covered the opening of Russia's first McDonald's as an example of the Soviet Union embracing capitalist principles, she explained, and images of people lining up to eat at the Pushkin Square location have come to represent that moment of transition and Cold War thawing.
McDonald's departure represents a new period of isolation for Russia, with thousands of Western companies limiting or ending operations in the country as a result of its invasion of Ukraine. And while its withdrawal could leave thousands of food service and agriculture workers without jobs, Ironside acknowledged, some people in Russia are seeing a silver lining.
"For the more nationalistic types, it's seen as, you know, maybe a positive symbol that it's going down because there were people even in the '90s who were not very happy about the fact that they spread so quickly, that they were, again, sort of proving this capitalist business model," she explained.
The chain timed its reopening with Russia Day, a national holiday commemorating the 1990 adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Sunday marked 108 days since Russia launched its full-fledged invasion of Ukraine.
CHERYL W THOMPSON, HOST:
Amid the monthslong war in Ukraine, thousands of foreign companies have departed Russia in protest over the invasion. Among the largest and most symbolic exits was McDonald's with more than 800 restaurants across the country. Yet the franchise is now back under new Russian ownership and a new name, as NPR's Charles Maynes reports from Moscow.
CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: In 1990, thousands lined up in central Moscow for a first taste of a McDonald's hamburger in what came to symbolize a thaw in Cold War tensions and a Soviet embrace of American culture.
MAYNES: Fast forward to today, and certainly, hundreds showed up to check out McDonald's replacement, a newly christened burger empire called Vkusno & Tochka, which translates from Russian as something like delicious, that's all.
MAYNES: Anna Patrunina, one of the first McDonald's hires in the Soviet Union and now vice president of operations for the new spinoff, says the difference between then and now is Russian confidence.
ANNA PATRUNINA: (Through interpreter) Thirty-two years ago, we were so worried because we didn't know how it would go. But today, we know exactly what we're doing.
MAYNES: Indeed, the new delicious franchise, which will soon launch across the country, is built mostly, if not entirely, on the old McDonald's model. Sure, gone are the golden arches, replaced by an abstract letter M forged from two giant French fries and what appears to be a flattened bun. But the suppliers of Russian beef, chicken and potatoes are the same. Even the staff is the old McDonald's crew. All 62,000 employees will remain under an acquisition deal that guarantees their jobs for the next two years. The franchise's new owner, Russian businessman Alexander Govor, says there's simply no reason to reinvent the wheel when McDonald's had all but perfected it.
ALEXANDER GOVOR: (Through interpreter) The system they developed is world-famous. I've learned lots from it, and it's even come to influence my other businesses.
MAYNES: The opening, of course, comes amid Western sanctions and a boycott by McDonald's and hundreds of other foreign companies over Russia's actions in Ukraine. That fact wasn't lost on Svetlana Vivitsky, who said the relaunch under new ownership showed Russia was now quite capable of making its own hamburgers, thank you very much.
SVETLANA VIVITSKY: (Through interpreter) McDonald's left, but we didn't panic. We opened our own restaurant under a new name with food that's just as good - certainly no worse.
MAYNES: And about that food...
ILYA KONSENBERG: (Speaking Russian).
MAYNES: ...Ilya Konsenberg, a local university student, says the burgers, the fries taste basically the same. "It's just different packaging," says Konsenberg. But there are some noticeable differences. The Big Mac is no more - its secret sauce still a secret. McNuggets are now just nuggets. In fact, all Mc references are gone under a deal with McDonald's to de-arch Russia completely. It's a purging of the past that at least some found depressing.
LUDMILLA RUDENKO: (Speaking Russian).
MAYNES: Outside the restaurant, Ludmilla Rudenko clutched an empty hamburger wrapper and said she felt like she was at a funeral. Rudenko fears that under new Russian ownership, old Soviet practices might come back and destroy a restaurant she and her family had come to love over the past three decades.
RUDENKO: (Speaking Russian).
RUDENKO: "Have you ever eaten in a Soviet restaurant?" she asked. "You never knew if the meat you were getting was lamb, pork or your neighbor's cat."
RUDENKO: (Speaking Russian).
MAYNES: Was she kidding? Probably. But neither she nor the cat relish those times. Charles Maynes, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.