MOSCOW — The golden arches are up and a crew of 630 is standing by, ready to begin serving the first Moscow Big Macs--which must taste the same as those bought at any other McDonald's in the world.
Quality control is the responsibility of Craig Sopkowicz of Milwaukee, who is putting the finishing touches on a training program for the Soviets hired to work the grills, cola dispensers and cash registers at the glistening new restaurant on Pushkin Square just blocks from Red Square.
Moscow-McDonald's, a joint venture set up by McDonald's Restaurants of Canada Ltd., and the Food Service Administration of the Moscow City Council, began its search for staff in November.
The response to an ad in Moscow's youth newspaper was overwhelming, with 30,000 applications for the available jobs.
"We had some applications from people who lived two days' travel time away from Moscow," Sopkowicz said. "They really wouldn't have minded traveling two days to work here."
In the end, Sopkowicz and other McDonald's executives personally interviewed 4,100 applicants before deciding on the final 630 for the restaurant.
"We looked for applicants who lived close to the restaurant, among other things," Sopkowicz said. "Most of those we hired are university students. Several of them speak English, and about 30% have a second language other than Russian."
The next step for Sopkowicz and his crew was the task of training the young Soviets to provide the kind of fast service required of all McDonald's.
"First, we used video training tapes, dubbed into Russian. Then, all of our training manuals were translated into Russian, which made it easy for us because we worked alongside of them with the same manuals in English," he said.
Language for the Soviet crew will not be a problem: This restaurant is for the Soviet people and not restricted to foreigners and tourists with hard currency like most of the other foreign-operated restaurants in Moscow.
Rubles will be the currency for purchasing Big Macs, although when 19 other planned McDonald's restaurants open during the next five years, about half will be restricted to hard currency customers.
As the training neared its end and uniforms were being issued to the new employees, the work pace of Sopkowicz and other executives was frantic.
"Look at my feet," he said in an interview on a snowy morning. "I have to wear running shoes to keep up."
Sopkowicz has not had time to miss Milwaukee, not even the weather.
"I don't really notice any difference. Milwaukee can be 20 degrees below, the same as it is here. There, it also can snow every day for a month, a lot like here," he said.
With the grand opening scheduled for Jan. 31, the restaurant is getting the final distinctive McDonald's touches.
Menus, printed in Russian, offer fewer items than the typical U.S. McDonald's fare. The basic menu includes: Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Double Cheeseburger, Double Hamburger, Cheeseburger, Milk Cocktail (milkshake), soft drinks, French fries and ice cream sundaes.
Prices, which have not been officially posted, will be roughly equivalent to those in Western McDonald's, which will make the Big Mac a relatively expensive meal for a Russian, who earns about one fifth the average Western salary.
But Sopkowicz and other McDonald's executives expect hordes of customers and are geared up to serve 17,000 daily.
In the final days of training, the new staff is being drilled on how a McDonald's is a McDonald's no matter where it is.
"We are explaining that they must be polite, friendly and say things like 'Have a good day' and 'Come back soon,' " phrases seldom heard in Soviet restaurants and shops.