ALMATY -- The opening of a new fast-food restaurant in Russian locations that used to belong to the multinational chain McDonald's so far has aroused critical reviews and derision on social media.
The first McDonald's in Moscow opened on Pushkin Square in 1990, heralding the capital city's "coming out party" after decades of Soviet rule.
The rebranded restaurant reopened June 12. It bore a new name and logo in a potent reminder of the upheaval sparked by the conflict in Ukraine.
The fast-food giant May 16 announced that it would exit Russia in response to the country's February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Kazakhstan has 22 McDonald's restaurants, the only ones in Central Asia. Russians who fled to Kazakhstan after the invasion have been spotted in them.
On Pushkin Square on June 12, dozens of customers gathered outside the Russian incarnation of the fast-food restaurant, Vkusno i tochka, well before the official noon opening.
Some have translated the restaurant's name as "Delicious. Full Stop", while others render it as "Tasty and That's It".
That particular restaurant was among the first 15 Vkusno i tochka locations to welcome customers.
Another 50 opened on June 13, with the new chain planning to reopen 50 to 100 a week across the country.
Its logo includes two stylised orange fries alongside a red dot on a green background.
The new business had to make other changes.
"We had to remove some products from the menu because [they] refer directly to McDonald's," according to Oleg Paroyev, general manager of the new group, according to Euronews.com.
Prices have risen "slightly" because of the inflation that has hit Russia hard after Western countries imposed sanctions -- but the new operation will strive to keep them "reasonable", he added, according to Vedomosti.ru.
As for the packaging, it is "neutral" -- "no word, no letter" should remind customers of the new chain's predecessor, said Alexander Govor, who bought the 850 former McDonald's restaurants in Russia, according to Aif.ru.
McDonald's Russian and Ukrainian operations had accounted for about 9% of the global corporation's revenues before the war, according to CNBC.
Three days after the company announced its exit in May, Govor, who had been a McDonald's licensee, bought all of its franchises in Russia.
Govor agreed to retain employees for at least two years and fund liabilities to suppliers, landlords and utilities, McDonald's said.
The price of the transaction was not disclosed.
Before the war, Govor operated 25 McDonald's restaurants in Siberia.
"The name changes; the love remains," read a feel-good slogan on the mirrored facade of the former McDonald's in Pushkin Square.
For many, however, the replacement lacks the charm of the original.
"The absence of [McDonald's] steady hand and the chain's strict design guidelines also affect user friendliness," wrote 4PDA, a Russian technology site in a review of the new business that appeared online June 12.
"The menu was laid out sloppily, and it would be nice if many of the items were more legible. It's obvious that everything was done hastily and carelessly."
The pictures on the menu were just slightly altered images of McDonald's food, 4PDA noted.
"That's understandable. It's unlikely that someone photographed [the food] again: they pulled ready-made images of burgers from old files, photoshopped fries in a neutral white package, bought stock photos of drinks, and bam, the collage is ready," the site said.
"After tasting the Russian fast food, both of our volunteers said that the chicken -- nuggets and tenders -- was bland and very soft, and had lost the texture of meat," 4PDA wrote.
The buns, which are now made by a different company, were "too sweet, and that changes the taste of all the burgers considerably", it added.
One angry visitor, a man in his mid-20s, could be seen holding a sign reading "Bring Back the Big Mac."
Ulan Omorov, who is originally from Kyrgyzstan and now lives in Moscow, was once a McDonald's regular.
After trying out Vkusno i tochka, Omorov does not plan to return.
"The burgers taste noticeably different, I think for the worse," Omorov said. "The atmosphere has also changed: there are much fewer people, and the workers are disgruntled."
The workers were likely in a bad mood because many customers were criticising the food and comparing it to what McDonald's used to serve, Omorov noted.
"It's hard to relax and have fun here like before," he added.
Vkusno i tochka has also been the subject of derision online.
In one meme, Michael Keaton, who played McDonald's founder Ray Kroc in the film "The Founder", is seen standing with an annoyed expression in front of the Vkusno i tochka logo and behind the Russian-language caption, "But where's the Big Mac?"
Another image posted on Telegram likens Krusty Krab, the burger restaurant in the cartoon "SpongeBob SquarePants", and its unsuccessful rival Chum Bucket to McDonald's and Vkusno i tochka, respectively.
"Plankton managed to steal the secret recipe," the author quipped, referring to the oft-antagonist of the show and owner of the Chum Bucket.
Dim prospects in Russia
For Russians who have left their home country, McDonald's is yet another casualty of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Almost 130,000 Russians arrived in Kazakhstan from February through April this year, up from about 60,000 during the same period in 2021, Inform.kz reported in May.
Many of them now reside in Kazakhstan's largest cities -- the capital, Nur-Sultan, and the commercial hub, Almaty.
Vladimir Sidorenko, an information technology specialist from Moscow, arrived in Almaty in April and is renting a co-working office in the city centre.
"Of course I didn't come here for McDonald's, even though I used to eat there fairly often," Sidorenko said with a laugh.
"Many Russians who have left Russia are trying to maintain business connections. Some probably don't want to live in a new, completely totalitarian reality with dim prospects," he said.
A sense of depression is widespread among Russian progressives because the public has "lost hope that the authorities will correct their mistake and try to rectify the situation", Sidorenko said.
"Life in Russia is getting worse in all areas, and that's being felt more and more every day. The example of Vkusno i tochka is just one small piece of the larger catastrophe we're witnessing."