By Rick Zednik
In a move widely seen as symbolic of increasing international business interest in Slovakia, the country's first McDonald's restaurant will open in October of this year. But contrary to the world-wide fast food chain's pattern, the inaugral Big Mac attackwill not occur in the country's capital city. Instead, the first McDonald's will open in a city with one-sixth the population of Bratislava - Banska Bystrica.
According to Drahomira Jirakova, McDonald's spokeswoman in the Czech Republic, the small city of 86,000 people was not the company's first choice.
"We started with Bratislava and Kosice," Jirakova said of the country's two largest cities. But she then added, "Everything was quicker in Banska Bystrica." More specifically, Jirakova said, "Real estate agreements were slower (to be finalized) in Bratslava."
Some observers see the decision to start outside the Slovak capital as an indictment of Bratislava's inefficiency as much as it is a tribute to Banska Bystrica's appeal.
"I'm sure the bureaucracy of the local authority is much less (in Banska Bystrica than in Bratislava)," said Laurie Farmer, a real estate consultant with Spiller Farmer in Bratislava.
Seconding that sentiment was Steve Macfarlane, sales director for Immobiliser, an automotive security company whose business took off after moving from Bratislava to Banska Bystrica in May 1994. "If a company wants to get up and go in Slovakia," Macfarane said, "I would never recommend Bratislava." He cited tediously long waits for official permits as an example of the headaches of doing business in Bratislava.
Although Immobiliser's business is quite different from McDonald's, Macfarlane said some problems are the same no matter what the industry. "In Bratislava, a customer is a second-class citizen," he said.
But Bratislava is a capital city of over half a million people, and Farmer said McDonald's decision to start elsewhere does not help Bratislava's yearning to be a cosmopolitan town. "I would think of McDonald's as an important company to have in Bratisava," he said. "All international cities have one, as much as they have their own opera house."
Despite some early hesitancy based partly on environmental concerns. Bratislava Mayor Peter Kresanek now invites the multinational empire to enter his city. "We would like McDonald's to come to Bratislava," said Kresanek spokesman Richard Rybnicek.
McDonald's still intends to open a restaurant in Bratislava, Jirakova said, but not until early in 1996. It is part of the company's plan to open three to five restaurants a year in Slovakia over the next five years.
Jirakova mentioned Kosice, Zilina and Nitra as other cities in McDonald's plans for the very near future.
For now, however, the Banska Bystrica restaurant is the only one already under construction. It will be across from K-Mart, just off the highway heading Southwest out of town towards Bratislava. Joining an expanding complex that also includes a nearly omplete OMV gas station, the restaurant will feature what is thought to be Slovakia's first drive through dining outlet.
So, although the restaurant will be out of Banska Bystrica's historic centre, Jirakova is very high on the new location. "The site is very nice and the gas station will be very busy," she said. Jirakova also said the five drive through restaurants McDoald's has in the Czech Republic are among the most successful of the 15 outlets the company has opened in that country since March 1992.
In addition to the novelty of the drive through, the Banska Bystrica restaurant will most likely set new standards for local eateries, with the ability to seat 70 people from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. 365 days a year.
Innovations like these are being encouraged by Banska Bystrica public officials, who are gaining a reputation for being developmentn-minded.
"The mayor of Banska Bystrica supports entrepreneurial ideas," Dominik Belko, who works for the entrepreneurship centre there, said of Mayor Presperin, who took office early this year. As another example, Belko cited a municipal initiative of renting sdewalk space to restaurants for 1 Sk per square metre.
Jirakova said McDonald's has been pleased with the cooperation they have received in Banska Bystrica. "The people are very professional."
The new restaurant, which will employ 70 people, will be owned by McDonald's Slovakia s.r.o., But Jirakova said the company will be looking for franchisers to take over the restaurants.
At the outset, most suppliers will be Czech companies that supply the McDonald's restaurants there. But Jirakova said the milk for shakes and sundaes are supplied by a firm called Farma Fresh in Majcichov, just south of Tmava, and the company will be loking for more Slovak suppliers.
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Source: McDonald's Central Europe