Instrumental in bringing McDonald's to Russia was George Cohon, founder of McDonald's Canada and Russia who worked tirelessly for more than 14 years to bring the Golden Arches to the former Soviet Union.
"What started as a casual conversation led to years of negotiations and culminated in the opening of the first McDonald's in Russia," Cohon says. "Initially people were skeptical about whether McDonald's would work in Russia; I'm very proud to say that since opening 20 years ago, we have served more than two billion customers, which is a testament to the great work and dedication of our Russian employees."
A chance meeting between Cohon and a Soviet delegation at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal started the long and difficult process to the first restaurant in Pushkin Square. The story outlining the journey is chronicled in Cohon's book To Russia with Fries. The opening on January 31, 1990, made news around the world when Moscovites gathered to experience McDonald's for the first time in their home country. McDonald's Russia has since become the fastest growing market for McDonald's in Europe, serving more than 950,000 customers a day.
"In Russia, we now have 245 restaurants in more than 60 Russian cities across the country with plans to open 40–45 new stores in 2010," says Khamzat Khasbulatov, president of McDonald's Russia, who started out as restaurant manager at the Pushkin Square location. "To this day, it remains one of the busiest McDonald's restaurants in the world, having welcomed more than 137 million customers since opening."
Since opening in 1990, when the majority of raw materials had to be imported, McDonald's has made significant contributions to the development of Russia's foodservice and processing industries as well as the country's agriculture and business practices. Over 80 percent of raw ingredients needed for McDonald's Russia restaurants are purchased from independent Russian suppliers, all of which adhere to McDonald's strictly controlled quality standards.
McDonald's Russia currently employs more than 25,000 people and creates on average 100 new jobs for local people with each new restaurant opening. In 2010, with plans to accelerate the pace of growth by 20 percent, McDonald's Russia is expected to add a total of 4,000–4,500 new job opportunities for local citizens.
In 2004 McDonald's contributed to the foundation of Ronald McDonald House Charities in Russia. Since then, RMHC Russia has donated more than 330 million rubles to local charities. RMHC's main legacy is the Ronald McDonald Center—a sports and health facility for children with disabilities which is attended weekly by more than 400 children. RMHC opened 10 Family Rooms in medical institutions in different cities across Russia to offer comfort and support for families of children undergoing long term medical treatment. More than 34,000 children with their families stayed there, benefiting from the home-away-from-home atmosphere.