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First McDonald’s in Africa, Arab World Opens in Casablanca

December 18, 1992

CASABLANCA, Morocco (AP) _ The Golden Arches came to the golden sands of Morocco Friday as the first McDonald’s hamburger restaurant in Africa or the Arab world opened in Casablanca.

The 300-seat fast-food outlet graces the coastline of this city, better known as the title of the 1942 Humphrey Bogart film, than as the dusty port town it is.

Hundreds of people descended on the restaurant, a few steps away from beaches and topless summer sunbathers.

″There must be 800 people here right now,″ said Fatim Zohra Tazi, an accountant with McDonald’s. ″It’s been full ever since this morning.″

The restaurant will employ 12 managers and up to 100 younger workers. Most of the managers were trained in France to impart a higher standard of service, according to Abderrahmane Belghiti, president of the food and leisure development firm SERL that owns the franchise.

Customers were enthusiastic.

″I knew about McDonald’s from movies, but it’s the first time I’m eating it,″ said Abdelakim Moudden, 40. ″It tastes different.″

Moudden, a writer, said he thought Moroccans would take to the fast-food chain.

″The target was studied well,″ he said. ″A restaurant like this, in Casablanca, with the menu and prices it offers, can only succeed.″

Mourad Ahmed, a company employee, agreed that McDonald’s was a formula for success as long as it was run just as it is back home.

″It’s going to be a big success because Moroccans love to eat,″ said Samir Yaqubi, a local textile worker. ″We even prefer to eat well than to dress well.″

The menu is entirely ″hallal,″ or acceptable to Muslim customs, Tazi, the accountant, said.

″We don’t serve pork or alcoholic drinks, and smoking is not permitted on the premises,″ she said.

The price of a Big Mac, fries, drink and dessert is around 50 dirhams, or $6.25. That’s much cheaper than Europe, though still pricey in a country where the minimum wage is the equivalent of around 75 cents.

Most of McDonald’s ingredients, including meat, buns and potatoes, are imported. The restaurant expects to serve up to 3,000 meals a day.

Half the seating is on an outdoor terrace overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. A large, new parking lot is next door, and drive-through service is available.

SERL provided $1 million of the $2.5 million investment, with the rest coming from McDonald’s, based outside Chicago.

The concept of a large-scale fast-food restaurant is new to Moroccans. Hamburger kitchens abound in Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, and other urban areas, but they are small operations that are locally owned.

The only other international chain to set up business in Morocco is Pizza Hut, which opened a restaurant last spring.

There are now McDonald’s restaurants in 64 countries around the world, with annual sales of more than $20 billion.

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