Bábolna-McDonald’s (Budapest, Hungary)

Budapest was never a city that held tightly to the communist ideals of moderation or humility.  It was more the beer drinking, rock-n-roll obsessed cousin that came to all the family gatherings but was always a little bit of an outsider.  In the 1980s, while the rest of Eastern Europe was fighting to establish themselves as independent, Budapest stood at the front with its big brother Prague and prepared for new beginnings.

On April 29th, 1988 McDonald’s opened its first location (complete with “real” Coke) behind the iron curtain.  This was a time when people traveled from all over the communist controlled Eastern Block to wait in line for hours to get a burger, some fries, and a coke.  With over ten thousand guests served in the first 14 hours they were open, this particular McDonald’s brought a little piece of Western freedom with their Big Macs, and along with it a large side of regime change for at least one small part of Eastern Europe.

At the opening Róbert Burgert, the Hungarian partner’s representative, referring to the general poor quality of socialist public food service, told the press, “Even in our circumstances, we are able to produce quality in mass numbers.”  With Ronald McDonald standing on a street corner posing for pictures with Slovakian and Bulgarian tourists, inviting all those that passed by to visit his newest restaurant, it was indeed the beginning of the end for the communist control over the city that was ready to move on to bigger and better opportunities.

Bábolna-McDonald’s Fast Food Restaurant Inc. was founded at a cost of 120 million forints. The American partners raised a million dollars and provided all the kitchen equipment while the Hungarian partners provided a prized piece of downtown real estate.