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Iranian Authorities Clip Bogus KFC's Wings

A man walks past the fried chicken shop Halal KFC, which Iranian authorities closed on November 3.

Nothing says "America" quite like the opening of a bogus Kentucky Fried Chicken in the Iranian capital.

Too American, it seems, for Iranian authorities, who apparently spoiled the grand opening of a Turkish-born, Muslim-focused, "KFC Halal" restaurant in Tehran because they considered it a serious cultural threat.

Just two days after it opened, potential customers were greeted on November 3 by locked doors bearing an announcement that the restaurant had been closed down.

No reason was given, but criticism on hard-line websites suggested that the restaurant -- whose signage includes images of the American chain's iconic mascot, Colonel Sanders, before a red-and-white striped backdrop that some suggested resembled the U.S. flag -- could be viewed as American influence on Iranian culture, and thus is a grave danger to the Islamic republic.

It was a sharp reversal from the fanfare that accompanied the restaurant's November 1 opening, when pictures posted on the store's website showed customers lined up to get a taste of southern fried chicken.

In reporting the closure, Tasnim described the restaurant as the first branch of the U.S. fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken.

But that was news to KFC's parent company, Yum! Brands.

"We are shocked with the news that an illegitimate KFC outlet has opened in Tehran, Iran," the Kentucky-based company said in a statement sent to RFE/RL. "No franchise rights have been granted to any party in Iran. We are in contact with local authorities and external advisers and will be filing a legal action against any company or individuals claiming to have rights to open KFC."

Tasnim and other Iranian media reported that the restaurant did not have a license to operate in Iran, but the restaurant's manager has said a mistake has been made.

"The shutting down of KFC Halal was due to a misunderstanding," the store's manager, Abbas Pazuki, was quoted as saying by Tasnim. "We are part of a brand known as KFC Halal, which comes from Turkey. It belongs to Muslims and its target market is Muslim nations."

Lest there be any doubt, Pazuki clarified that KFC Halal was indeed a rival of the American chain. "We as Iranians didn't like to work with Americans, [so] we worked with Turks."

In the "about us" section of KFC Halal's website, the company draws on mythology and Iran's history of overcoming its enemies, and characterizes the opening of the new restaurant as an example of a modern, scientific business model.

Ali Fazeli, the head of Iran’s chamber of commerce, confirmed that KFC Halal has no connection with the U.S. fast food chain.

"In accordance with orders from the Supreme Leader, we do not give any authorization to Western brands" in the fast food sector, Fazeli was quoted as saying by ILNA news agency.

The restaurant’s closure comes amid growing warnings in Iran by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other senior hard-line officials over alleged efforts by the United States "to infiltrate" the Islamic republic following the landmark nuclear deal reached in July.

Khamenei was quoted on November 1 as telling officials to be to "be watchful about irregular imports after lifting sanctions and seriously avoid importing consumer goods from the United States."

On November 3, Iranian media reported that 16 lawmakers had issued a letter to the interior and commerce ministers, warning against the opening of "Western-style" cafes and restaurants, particularly fried chicken restaurants.

Iran already has numerous Western-style restaurants that operate under names such as "Pizza Hat" and "Mash Donald's." In other cases, such as with the Starbucks impersonator Raees Coffee, company logos closely resemble those of American brands.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda