The opening of an American burger joint in Kazakhstan warms my innards

25 октября 2011, 12:25

I’ve been trying to come up with a clever way to trumpet Hardee’s’ arrival in Kazakhstan.

At first I considered grabbing your attention with: “Kazakhstan no longer has to play catch-up with the West.”

But I decided that such a shameless pun about a burger chain wouldn’t cut the mustard with you, my loyal readers. Even my best friends would have pelted me with soggy French fries for a groaner like that.

So decided to play it straight with you in this blog – as straight as I can, anyway.

I’m ecstatic that Hardee’s is here. I’ve been waiting for a real Western fast-food emporium to arrive for half a decade.

The good news is that there are two. The bad news – from my point of view, anyway -- is that they’re both in Almaty, and I live in Astana.

But in its recent announcement about the opening of the first two Hardee’s, CKE Restaurants said it planned 10 more in Kazakhstan.  Hot dog!

I’m smacking my lips already, thinking that Astana will get at least one of them – and maybe more.

When I read CKE’s Hardee’s-openings announcement on the Internet, I decided to call some Almaty friends to see how the restaurants were doing.

 “They’re really crowded – you can hardly get in them,” said Zhenya Kechina, a budding actress and singer.

Zhenya’s English is so good that she actually teaches the subject to adults and children.

She said she asked 7-year-old Nursultan during a recent lesson what was his favorite food.

“Hardee’s,” he replied. It seems Mom and Dad had been taking him there once a week.

Carpinteria, California-based CKE picked Hardee’s locations in Almaty with good walk-in potential. One restaurant is in the Mega shopping center and the other near the intersection of Abai and Baitursynova Streets.

I breathed a sigh of relief over Zhenya’s upbeat customer-numbers report. If the Hardee’s in Almaty had failed to become an  overnight sensations, I feared, CKE might put off its plans to open one in Astana.

Actually, I shouldn’t have worried about Hardee’s being unable to rake in customers in Kazakhstan. When I talk with Kazakhs who have lived in the United States or Europe – many of them students or former students -- I often ask if they miss life there.

A lot of them say they do. And you’d be surprised how many say the biggest thing they miss is fast food.

(A note of apology to my French friends: Even Kazakh friends who have lived in France – where the local cuisine is the world’s best -- say they miss fast food there. Sacre bleu!)

With tens of thousands of Kazakhs having studied and lived abroad, I’ve long figured there was a ready market for Western burger emporiums in this country.

My question has always been: Why has it taken so long to bring one to Kazakhstan?

If any of you know the answer to that question, please enlighten me and other readers.

I’ve been going to Ukraine for 11 years – and every time I visit a McDonald’s there, it’s jammed. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in Kiev, Odessa, Lvov or Dnepropetrovsk. And whether it’s morning, afternoon or night. Every McDonald’s is overflowing with customers.

Not only is the company employing Ukrainians in its restaurants, but it’s also buying beef, vegetables and other products in the country, creating additional jobs.

Kazakhstan is in an aggressive development mode -- one that includes the restaurant business, I have to believe. It’s also determined to create one of the world’s largest cattle industries. That will translate into a ready supply of home-grown beef for any rapid expansion of burger joints.

So it seems to me that the opening of the two Hardee’s in Almaty is just the tip of the iceberg lettuce for the Western fast-food business in Kazakhstan.

 I certainly don’t have any beef about that, my friends.

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