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I spilled my milkshake and I thought they'd bawl me out
End of an era in Russia. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Sometimes a business becomes a symbol of something bigger. That's what happened with McDonald's—specifically, the first McDonald's restaurant in Russia, located at Pushkin Square in Moscow.
It opened three decades ago, but after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February, McDonald's announced it would suspend its operations in Russia.
Yesterday, McDonald's took it all a step further, announcing it's decided to sell its Russian restaurants and pull out of the country permanently.
It’s a necessary and understandable move, but it’s also a shame. The story goes back nearly half a century, starting with the introduction of a Canadian McDonald's executive to some Soviet officials at the Summer Olympics in Montreal in 1976.
I know some of you remember this time. You couldn't just build an American restaurant in the old Soviet Union. Heck, you usually couldn't even travel to the old Soviet Union as an American (or a Canadian for that matter).
But time passed. The Cold War thawed. And when that first McDonald's opened on January 31, 1990, just months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was a huge, symbolic event.
More than 30,000 people waited in a line that stretched the length of five American football fields. Here's what some ordinary Russian customers told Western journalists at the time:
"We are interested in everything American. We came here because we thought this would be an unforgettable experience," a woman named Lena Kalashova told The Washington Post.
"Finding a decent place to eat is one of our biggest problems," said Gena Popov, who stood in line with his wife, Rima. "This place looks different just from the outside. Everything is so clean and bright."
"I spilled my milkshake and I thought they'd bawl me out," another customer told a Canadian reporter. "Instead, they gave me another one."
McDonald’s continued to be a massive hit in Russia for decades—the result of the efforts of a line of entrepreneurs from the original McDonald brothers to Ray Kroc to George Cohon—who was the head of McDonald's in Canada, and who spearheaded the Russian idea to begin with.
Eventually, McDonald's opened more than 850 Russian restaurants. But meanwhile, a Soviet KGB officer named Vladimir Putin rose to become the president and undisputed strongman of Russia.
And then, well: fast-forward through the full-scale invasion and the end of an era, on which the door was slammed Monday. Here's part of the official McDonald’s statement:
The Company intends to initiate the process of “de-Arching” those restaurants, which entails no longer using the McDonald’s name, logo, branding, and menu, though the Company will continue to retain its trademarks in Russia.
McDonald’s priorities include seeking to ensure the employees of McDonald’s Russia continue to be paid until the close of any transaction and that employees have future employment with any potential buyer.
McDonald's isn't alone in this, of course. Most other U.S. and Western countries suspended operations after the invasion. A few stayed.
Separately on Monday, the French car maker Renault announced it was selling its entire business in Russia to the Russian government for 1 ruble.
("Albeit with a six-year option to buy back the shares," according to Reuters. "Last year, the French carmaker valued its Russian assets at nearly $2.3 billion.")
Anyway, there was once a theory—Thomas Friedman came up with it, sort of tongue-in-cheek—that no two countries that had McDonald's restaurants had ever gone to war.
It wasn't quite true. The U.S. invaded Panama, India and Pakistan fought, Russia annexed Ukraine back in 2014, and there are others. But we get the point.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, I think McDonald’s CEO Christopher Kempczinski came up with a decent one at the end of a separate message McDonald’s sent to the “Global McFamily”…
It’s impossible to predict what the future may hold, but I choose to end my message with the same spirit that brought McDonald’s to Russia in the first place: hope.
Thus, let us not end by saying, “goodbye.” Instead, let us say as they do in Russian: До новой встречи. “Until we meet again.”
Signal Boost: Subscriber Amanda Cina wanted to let people know about "The Human Library."
It's like a regular library except that the books are all human volunteers who speak about their experiences and answer questions. The goal is to create more inclusive and cohesive communities across cultural, religious, social and ethnic differences.
Books are not political or on a mission, but rather surrender to the agenda of the reader. It's designed to build a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue. (Link)
7 other things worth knowing today
A Chinese-born gunman motivated by hatred against Taiwan chained shut the doors of a California church and hid firebombs before shooting at a gathering of mostly elderly Taiwanese parishioners, killing a man who tackled him, possibly saving dozens of lives, authorities said Monday. The late hero has been identified as Dr. John Cheng, 52, according to Orange County officials. He leaves behind a wife and two children. (Fox LA)
Abbott Nutrition said Monday it has reached an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration to reopen its infant formula plant, paving the way for increased baby formula supply amid the ongoing shortage. (Axios)
Only 22 people saw the Buffalo shooting when the killer live streamed it, but all it took was for one viewer to save a copy and redistribute it online. Two days after the shooting, the footage was still widely available online—just as the gunman had hoped, according to a screed he wrote beforehand, bringing more attention to his racist cause. A link to a copy on a site called Streamable had 3 million views before it was removed; a link to a copy on Facebook received more than 500 comments and 46,000 shares; Facebook did not remove it for more than 10 hours. (WashPost)
A bunch of hourly factory workers who make garage doors will get huge payouts ranging up to $400,000 after their company is sold. On average, hourly employees and truck drivers will get $175,000, and some could earn more, past $400,000. (Business Insider)
Walmart Inc. is stepping up efforts to entice college graduates by unveiling a fast track to jobs as store managers—positions that typically pay more than $200,000 a year and have traditionally taken years to get. Top new grads will be offered a role as an “emerging coach,” which provides starting pay of at least $65,000 a year and a speedy path to becoming a store manager. (Fortune)
With Elon Musk's deal to buy Twitter in doubt, he and Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal have been debating bots on Twitter. Related: Twitter stock has lost all of its gains since Elon Musk disclosed his stake. I have to say, if all this drama goes on and Musk doesn't end up buying Twitter, it will be emblematic of the sound and fury signifying nothing in news. I don't know how I can contribute to an effort to fix that, but I'd love for Understandably to be part of the solution. (CNN, CNBC)
I used to work for the company that owned Scary Mommy, and this mom's story caught my eye: "I quit nagging in the mornings and it changed everything. (If that meant we didn’t leave on time, they would experience the natural consequence of facing their teachers.)" (Scary Mommy)