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First McDonald’s In Kazakhstan Is Oddly Empty

I saw something that I didn’t really remember seeing in Astana before: a McDonald’s. The place was in a prominent part of town, right at the cusp between the business / administrative district and a residential area, and was probably the most well-put-on-displayed McDonald’s I’ve ever seen.

I asked around about it. Was this here before?

It was new; they just opened it last year. At that time it was the first McDonald’s in Kazakhstan.

After being held at bay for a remarkably long time, the big international chains are now moving into Kazakhstan. Starbucks is now here, Zara has some stores, I just saw some of the shelving and supplies for what will be the first H&M in Kazakhstan in the Astana Logistics Center a month and a half ago. They are coming; but many seem a little late to the game.

By keeping the big chains out — by either not having the proper logistical infrastructure to support their supply chains or the government foiling attempts by local entrepreneurial players from bringing them in (as is rumored) — Kazakhstan’s local brands and businesses have had an opportunity to establish themselves in cities that are now the bearers of populations that are incredibly cosmopolitan, international, modern.

I would sometimes get a coffee at this McDonald’s, and one thing that I found striking about it was that it’s often a tick from being empty. I’d been there at breakfast time, lunch time, and dinner time. When it first opened there were lines extending out the door, I am told. Now, there is scarcely a trickle.

McDonald’s seems to be dealing with the same problem here in Kazakhstan that they’re facing in many markets around the world: as it turns out, their food actually tastes horrible.

“Do people in Kazakhstan like McDonald’s food?” I had to ask around.

“Not really. No. I think maybe half the people liked the food and the other half don’t like it.”

Most people who seemed to be coming into this McDonald’s seemed to be doing so solely to take their kids to the indoor play area — which makes sense in the cold of an Astana winter.

Without offering breakfast — the restaurant chain’s pinnacle menu options — without the appeal of the image that nearly took over the world in the early days of globalization, with the knowledge that their food isn’t the healthiest, McDonald’s in Kazakhstan is standing on the taste of its hamburgers and fries and ice cream alone. The empty seats seem to tell how well this is going.

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Filed under: Kazakhstan, Travel Diary

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 80 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3167 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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