Thursday, April 5, 2018

"Fake fast food" for the win!

I had to smile at this report about fast food in Iran - not only because it's amusing, but because we ran into the same thing in South Africa (of which more later).

Before the 1979 revolution—before religious clerics took control of the country—Iran’s capital, Tehran, was a cosmopolitan city that glittered with Western influence: secularism, mini-skirts, and fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. But the new ruler, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, pushed a return to Islamic values and removing American influence. And so, women were forced to cover, Western texts were removed from schools, and American franchises were suddenly contraband.

In cutting its Western alliance, Iran became an isolated nation focused on traditionalism and hounded by morality police. Beneath the surface, though, most Iranians maintained an appreciation for Western culture, whether that meant banned literature or McDonald’s-style burgers. If there was one thing the government couldn’t suppress, it was taste. That’s why Iran is now home to dozens of knockoff franchises, from Mash Donald’s to Sheak Shack, that have taken advantage of hostility toward American fast food to serve dangerously delicious burgers, fries, and burritos. You can find the golden arches in Iran; they just have no official connection to McDonald’s.

. . .

“Iranians got tired of limited food options and were looking for a quick bite to eat,” says Holly Dagres, Iranian-American journalist and analyst and curator of “The Iranist” newsletter. “Fast food seemed the way to go, especially since many Iranians travel to Dubai and try American fast food franchises there.”

At the start of the fast-food wave, these restaurants were seen as places of status. Dagres recalls that Super Star, a Carl’s Jr. knockoff, was the place to be seen in the ‘90s. “Not every Iranian could afford a burger that cost almost as much as a kabob dish,” she says.

Over the next few decades, the copycat trend snowballed into outright saturation: Mash Donalds, Boof Burger, Subways, Sheak Shack, Pizza Hat. Menu item names, such as Dahbel Dahn (KFC Double Down) and Wooper, were adjusted to fit the Persian vernacular’s rich vowels. In other cases, traditional ingredients met Western formats to create one-of-a-kind dishes, such as lavash-wrapped burritos stuffed with jujeh (chicken) kebab, grilled vegetables, saffron rice, and yellow raisins.

There's more at the link.

South Africa didn't experience religious upheavals, but international sanctions against the apartheid regime prevented many US fast food companies from investing there.  No McDonalds, no Burger King, no Subway, no Hardee's.  We did have KFC and Pizza Hut, which established their presence before sanctions came in, then sold their operations to local entrepreneurs (including the right to use the brand names and trademarks) when they had to pull out.  Instead, South African brands like Spur Steak Ranches and Wimpy (which, oddly enough, started in the USA, but is now headquartered in South Africa) took over the market.

When sanctions were lifted (in fact, just before that happened), some local shady operators decided to set up "imitation" brand names, in the hope that they could force the real companies to pay them to go away.  It didn't work;  most multinational brands simply sued in court for trademark infringement.  Nevertheless, for a while we had "Macdonalds", or "Burger Queen" (there was even a short-lived "Burger Emperor"), or "Karls Junior".  A lot of less-well-traveled South Africans were taken in by them for a short time, but the word spread fast, and they soon faded away.

One of the funnier aspects of the drought in US brand names was the way some films were changed for their South African audiences.  Remember the movie "Demolition Man", where all restaurants had become Taco Bells?  Well, in South Africa, thanks to sanctions, there were no Taco Bells;  but we did have Pizza Hut.  (The same applied to a few other markets.)  Accordingly, the name "Pizza Hut" was dubbed over "Taco Bell" on the film soundtrack for those countries.  You can see and hear it in the video clip below.  Note how Sylvester Stallone's lips don't sync to the re-dubbed "Pizza Hut" line.  The scene was also filmed with alternate restaurant logos.

That's the first time I heard of sanctions making movie merchandising funny!



HMS Defiant said...

I remember in Saudi Arabia they had the Dairy King chain. It was just renamed. Everything else was the same.

takirks said...

Didn't Nandos get its start in South Africa, while the sanctions were still on...?

That's a counter-example of a fast-food franchise coming out of the wilderness of sanctioned nations, and making it out in the bigger world...

Anonymous said...

I know that there is a Karachi Fried Chicken in the Curry Triangle in Birmingham, UK. With an overwhelmingly large Pakistani population, I suppose that it is their Friday night foreign food treat.

Phil B

RCPete said...

Lakeview, Oregon has a Burger Queen. Small diner, serving burgers and shakes and
assorted Dairy-Queen-like food. It's actually pretty good, and according to the
info, has been around 28 years. It's on US 395 a bit south of the Oregon 140
turnoff to Klamath Falls.

Mike_C said...

I remember the chimeric (in the technical sense of the term ;-) Burger Queen in Taipei, which had inverted Golden Arches. I.e. the big yellow "M" of McDonald's, only upside down to make a "W". This was 35 years ago. (Oh geez I'm getting old!) Never ate there, but I was once denied service at a Pizza Hut in Borneo....

Anonymous said...

Honestly, what they would they need all those corporate burger and chicken franchises for? The same kind of food can be made under local brand, often both cheaper or in significantly better quality, and without transferring much of the profits abroad.
I do not know about Iran, but in my corner of Europe gastronomic small businesses are gaining popularity: from coffee stands to burger bars, most of which have their own brands and specialties, made from locally available products. The products they offer is no more expensive, than foods and drinks you would get from Mac or Starbuck. Works well for us locals, maybe less so for distant shareholders, but so what?

Baron von Cut-n-Paste said...

"Sheak Shack". Sigh. They missed a golden opportunity to name it Sheik Shack.