McDonald’s has made another heartbreaking announcement after 32 years

Of all the minor side effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, McDonald’s decision to suspend its operations in Russia (as sensible and inevitable as it was) really stood out for its symbolism.

Opening a single McDonald’s in Moscow during the Cold War took 14 years of negotiations over the canal, dating back to the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Then, for 32 years, as the chain grew to 800 McDonald’s stores across Russia, the memory of the first impression exist. †

Maybe it’s hard to understand if you don’t remember those days. But I think that even if you take a quick look at the coverage at the time (video embedded below), you’ll see some of what it was like — and how Soviet citizens, largely cut off from half the world for decades, responded to the idea of ​​being able to buy an American burger from an iconic American restaurant.

It was epic. And so, when McDonald’s announced it was suspending operations in Russia earlier this year, I think many of us hoped it would be just that: a temporary suspension.

Even as someone who rarely eats at McDonald’s, and who has never been to Russia and probably never will, the announcement of the suspension was a bit heartbreaking.

But then McDonald’s made another announcement a week ago. It continues to sell all its restaurants to a Russian executive, who will rebrand the entire chain and make the Golden Arches disappear from the country.

And that new announcement was even harder to bear. Here is the official announcement

McDonald’s Corporation announced today that it has entered into a purchase agreement with its existing licensee Alexander Govor. Under this agreement, Mr. Govor will acquire McDonald’s entire restaurant portfolio and operate the restaurants under a new brand.

Since 2015, Mr. Govor has served as a McDonald’s licensee and has operated 25 restaurants in Siberia.

Neither McDonald’s nor Govor’s company, GiD LLC, has disclosed the terms of the sale. In addition to coming up with a new name and expanding its restaurant share from 25 to more than 800 outlets, Govor promised to keep the future former McDonald’s employees in Russia for at least two years.

Separately, the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade began soliciting ideas for a new name for the massive franchise, with Russians suggesting things like:

  • “McAlex” (named after the new owner, I assume),
  • “McDuck” (which is apparently a Russian slang expression for McDonald’s, kind of like calling the chain “Mickey-Ds” in the US), or
  • “ZBurger” (which appears to be a trolling reference to the anti-friendly fire-recognition letters slapped on Russian tanks when they invaded Ukraine).

Anyway, when McDonald’s first announced it was shutting down operations, and later when it announced it would try to find a buyer, CEO Christopher Kempczinski ended his message to the “Global McFamilyfrom McDonald’s owner/operators, employees and suppliers, with a message of hope:

It’s impossible to predict what the future will bring, but I decide to end my message with the same spirit that brought McDonald’s to Russia in the first place: hope.

So let’s not end up saying ‘goodbye’. Instead, let’s say like they do in Russian… “Until we meet again.”

But fast-forward, and with actual sales and rebranding apparently moving forward, Kempczinski’s latest message of hope seems less and less likely.

The only silver lining I can see at the end of the Golden Arches in Russia? It’s an inspiring one.

If you have a business, think of McDonald’s in Moscow. May whatever you are building become a symbol of something so hopeful and powerful that you will never have to walk away again.

Perhaps for the last time, this is what it looked like the day the first McDonald’s opened in Moscow:

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not’s.