Fast-food giant McDonald's will open its first restaurant in the oil-rich Central Asian state of Kazakhstan next year, in partnership with an energy tycoon related by marriage to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The company will open its first burger bar at an unspecified location in Kazakhstan in the second half of 2015, with more to follow, it announced on November 12.
McDonald’s is heading into Kazakhstan with good connections guaranteed: It will be partnering with prominent gas tycoon Kairat Boranbayev, whose daughter Alima is married to Nazarbayev’s grandson, Aysultan Nazarbayev.
“Our agreement with Kairat will enable us to continue to build our brand,” Doug Goare, president of McDonald’s Europe, said of the foray into Kazakhstan, where insiders say that the key to business success is often not what you know but who you know.
The Kazakhstan launch comes as McDonald’s comes under massive pressure in neighboring Russia, where more than half of its 440 locations are under investigation over alleged health and safety violations (which the company denies) and nine outlets have been temporarily closed.
Kazakhstan is a close economic partner of Russia’s, but has been keen to distance itself from Moscow as Western sanctions bite, making it abundantly clear that its doors are always open to foreign investors.
Central Asia is better known for its golden domes than the golden arches. Western fast food giants have failed to create much of a presence in the region, one of the few places left on the planet without a McDonald's or a Burger King. Yet, at least in Kazakhstan, fast food junkies can find some relief feasting on the calorie-rich delights at KFC or Pizza Hut.
Since 2008, Russia's Rostik Group has been selling Colonel Sanders' fried chicken at its KFC outlets in Almaty and Astana. The company’s rapid expansion has Sanders grinning down from billboards around Almaty. The same company is also behind the appearance of Pizza Hut in Kazakhstan.
Rostik Group is credited with bringing the franchise concept to the former Soviet Union. Founded in the 1990s by the extravagantly named Rostislav Ordovsky-Tanayevsky Blanco, who was born in Venezuela to Russian and Spanish parents, the group has extensive business interests in Russia and beyond.
In 2007, rumors spread that one of the big burger chains was about to open in Kazakhstan, but the global economic crisis appears to have squashed that plan. In the meantime, Big Mac and Whopper aficionados will have to content themselves with local versions supplied by companies such as MacBurger, King Burger and Burger King’s, as there are no signs the big boys are coming to the Silk Road any time soon.
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