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McPutin's? Russian Film Directors Propose Patriotic Fast-Food Chain

  • Claire Bigg

Russian directors Andrei Konchalovsky (left) and his brother Nikita Mikhalkov

Russian directors Andrei Konchalovsky (left) and his brother Nikita Mikhalkov

Forget about Big Macs and Happy Meals.

Russia has a grand plan to launch its own, patriotic fast-food chain to rival Western burger joints like McDonald's and rescue its struggling farmers.

The $18-million initiative stems from brothers Nikita Mikhalkov and Andrei Konchalovsky, two of the country's most famous film directors.

Both have poured scorn on Western influence in the past and are known for their close ties to the Kremlin.

The brothers have already picked a name for their brainchild: "Let's Eat At Home!" (Edim Doma!)

The cafes would fall under the identically-named brand owned by Konchalovsky's wife, actress and cooking-show host Yulia Vysotskaya.

Andrei Vorobyov, the governor of the Moscow region, has welcomed the project.

"It's a good idea," he said. "Small businesses and chains create jobs, and the food produced on our territory is perfectly suitable for these cafes."

'McDonald's Killer'

The deputy chairman of the regional government, Denis Butsayev, has already hailed the proposed chain as a "McDonald's killer."

The government, however, appears less enthusiastic.

It rejected the brothers' request for direct funding at a government meeting late on April 9, suggesting that the would-be entrepreneurs should instead seek funding through Russia's existing scheme to support small businesses.

Under the program, 70 percent of the sum is provided by banks under a state-guaranteed loan, with the remaining 30 percent coming from private investors.

State-controlled Sberbank has been touted as a potential lender.

Mikhalkov and Konchalovsky had reportedly called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to help secure government backing for the project in light of its "sociopolitical character."

"The goal of this project is to promote import substitution and create alternatives to Western fast-food chains," the brothers wrote in their proposal, quoted by the Kommersant daily.

According to Kommersant, Putin had personally ordered Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich to "examine and support" the proposal.

Putin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, declined to comment on the claims but confirmed rumors of a recent meeting between Putin and Mikhalkov.

Inspired By Sanctions

Konchalovsky told Russian television on April 10 that he had been toying with the idea of opening a homegrown fast-food chain for several years.

He said the ban on Western food imports introduced by Russia last year in retaliation for sanctions over Russia's backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine had bolstered him to take action.

Hundreds of Russian farmers, he added, have also turned to his brother for guidance after his documentary films on the country's agricultural crisis were aired on national television.

The brothers want to open 41 cafes in the Moscow and Kaluga regions, all supplied by local kitchens and factories. Up to 40 percent of the menu will be made from regional produce.

Under the proposal, the chain will also cater to orphanages.

If Edim Doma! ever gets off the ground, it faces stiff competition from Western rivals.

McDonald's remains hugely popular among Russians, despite a number of recent setbacks amid deepening tensions between Russia and the United States.

The U.S. chain's decision to close its restaurant in Crimea following the region's annexation by Russia last year prompted nationalist politicians to call for the company's "eviction" from Russia.

In August, four McDonald's outlets were shut down on the orders of Russia's state consumer watchdog, including its flagship restaurant on Pushkin Square. They later reopened.

Meanwhile, bloggers have been poking fun at the EdimDoma! venture, picturing Mikhalkov with the McDonald's logo.

Mikhalkov has also been portrayed as Colonel Sanders, the face of Kentucky Fried Chicken, in a tweet that makes reference to the billion-ruble sum requested for his project and the number of meals KFC says it serves worldwide every year.

And as the new catchphrase "burnt by the bun" made the rounds on Twitter -- a wordplay on the title of Mikhalkov's Oscar-winning film Burnt By The Sun -- cartoonist Sergei Elkin portrayed Mikhalkov donning a tsar's cap in the shape of a hamburger bun.

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    Claire Bigg

    Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to BiggC@rferl.org​


     

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