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Scores of people queued outside what was formerly McDonald's flagship restaurant in Pushkin Square, central Moscow, on Sunday. The outlet sported a new logo — a stylised burger with two fries — plus a slogan reading: "The name changes, love stays".
This was part of the grand reopening of 15 of the 850 former McDonald's outlets under new ownership and rebranding. The new name, Vkusno & tochka, translates as "Tasty and that's it" and famous offerings such as the Big Mac are off the menu.
US fast-food company McDonalds pulled out of Russia in May, after closing all its restaurants in the country in March in protest against the war in Ukraine. The brand entered Russia 32 years ago — prompting long queues — in a symbolic sign of thawing tensions between East and West.
It employed 62,000 people in Russia, who largely kept their jobs in the takeover by a Russian businessman.
The same but different
The queues, and menus offerings, were smaller than in 1990 on Sunday. Some said they could not taste the difference between the new and old food.
"The taste has stayed the same," Sergei, 15, told Reuters, as he tucked into a chicken burger and fries. "The cola is different, but there really is no change to the burger."
Illustrating the rush the new owners have had to rebrand in time for the launch, much of the packaging for fries and burgers was plain white, as were drink cups. Takeaway bags were plain brown. The old McDonald's logo on packets of ketchup and other sauces were covered over with makeshift black markings.
Oleg Paroev, chief executive of Vkusno & tochka, said the company was planning to reopen 200 restaurants in Russia by the end of June — and all 850 by the end of the summer.
"For three months, we did not work," said Ruzanna, manager of a Moscow branch that is [scheduled to] open in July. "Everyone is very pleased."
The chain will keep its old McDonald's interior, but will expunge any references to its former name, said Mr Paroev, who was appointed Russia's McDonald's chief executive only weeks before Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on February 24.
"Our goal is that our guests do not notice a difference either in quality or ambience," Mr Paroev told a media conference in the restaurant. He said the chain would keep "affordable prices", but added that prices would likely rise due to inflation, although not higher than its competitors.
Who owns the Russian McDonald's stores now?
Siberian businessman Alexander Govor is the new owner of the stores. He told Reuters he was striving to launch something similar to the iconic Big Mac.
"We don't have the right to use some colours, we don't have the right to use the golden arches, we don't have the right to use any mention of McDonald's," he said.
"The Big Mac is the story of McDonald's. We will definitely do something similar. We will try to do something even better so that our visitors and guests like this dish."
McDonald's had told employees that the war in Ukraine, which has been raging for over 100 days, was "impossible to ignore".
“Some might argue that providing access to food and continuing to employ tens of thousands of ordinary citizens is surely the right thing to do,” chief executive Chris Kempczinski said in a letter to employees.
“But it is impossible to ignore the humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Ukraine.”
Other US and global brands have pulled out of Russia, too, including Starbucks and Coca-Cola.