Global fast-food giant McDonalds on Monday celebrated the 20th anniversary of its debut in Moscow, an event that drew more than 30,000 curious Soviet citizens and foreshadowed the end of the Cold War.
Current and former McDonalds executives recalled the opening of the chain's first Russian restaurant on January 31, 1990, which proved a sensation among Soviets starved for information about the outside world.
"The night before we opened I had a nightmare that no one would show up," McDonalds Russia founder George Cohon told reporters in a press conference at the restaurant itself, located on Moscow's Pushkin Square.
Instead some 5,000 people braved freezing winter temperatures to queue up at dawn, and by day's end over 30,000 had experienced the restaurant seen as an icon of globalization and sometimes as a symbol of US cultural imperialism.
Cohon, the former head of McDonalds Canada, recalled his long battle with Soviet bureaucrats to allow the restaurant to open.
His efforts began in 1976 and he initially hoped the restaurant would open in time for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
But the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the ensuing Olympic boycott by Western countries put a dent in those plans.
"The first thing was we had to explain what McDonalds is. You have to realize they had no concept of the company," said Cohon, 72, who has authored a book about his experiences called "To Russia With Fries."
He denied, however, that his efforts helped end the Cold War. "We can't take credit for that. All I know is we delivered what we promised, and we were pioneers, the first ones in."
Russia is currently the fastest growing market for McDonalds in Europe. The company says more than 950,000 customers are served in Russia on a daily basis, out of 12.9 million served per day in Europe.