Russia is pulling out of McDonald’s for good. Because of the war in Ukraine, the fast food giant is selling off its 850 restaurants in Russia. But people in Russia have grown accustomed to the American fast food chain and its departure is not the end of its style of fast food in the country. Rather, it’s quite possibly the beginning of an era for knock offs with names like “DonMak” and “Uncle Vanya’s.”
McDonald’s first announced it was suspending operations in Russia over the war in Ukraine in March. On Monday, two months after that announcement, it announced it would leave the country entirely and sell its old restaurants.
Back when its closure was first announced, a man handcuffed himself to a Moscow area McDonald’s, saying that the departure of the fast food giant was an act of hostility.
A crowd gathered and as police worked to free the man from the door, and several people tried to talk the guy down from his protest. “They will open in a month and a half, but under a different name,” one person shouted.
It didn’t even take a month and a half.
On March 12, shortly after McDonald’s first said it would suspend operations in Russia, a trademark application was filed for a restaurant called “Uncle Vanya’s,” a reference to the classic Chekhov play. The logo for the restaurant is the familiar Golden Arches turned on their side to resemble a “B.” In Cyrillic, the “B” would sound like an English “V.”
“They announced they are closing. Well, okay, close. But tomorrow in those locations we should have not McDonald’s, but Uncle Vanya’s,” Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of Russia’s lower house in parliament, said in March, The Washington Post reported. “Jobs must be preserved and prices reduced.”
This isn’t the only time McDonald’s has had its restaurants taken over and slightly modified in the region. When Russia invaded the Donetsk region of Ukraine in 2014, McDonald’s restaurants in the region ceased to operate. In its place a new fast food chain took over: DonMak.
DonMak’s began to appear in abandoned McDonald’s in Donetsk after Russia invaded in 2014. Its food and logos are suspiciously similar to those of the fast food giant. According to a DonMak manager VICE spoke with in 2017, the goal of the restaurant chain is to reestablish the comforts of fast food and help the people of Donetsk to not feel so cut off from the rest of the world.
A similar comfort may be coming to Moscow, though as Uncle Vanya’s instead of DonMak. It’s hard to say if the DonMak scheme will scale throughout the rest of Russia or if they’ll all be branded as Uncle Vanya’s. Russia is a big country and 850 new abandoned restaurants represent a lot of opportunity.