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In Spite of Copycat, McDonald’s Set to Open Saturday

November 9, 1995

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ McDonald’s says it will sell its first burger and fries in South Africa on Saturday despite a headline-making legal battle with a local copycat.

Corporate executives and the proud owners of the first McDonald’s franchise south of the Sahara _ South Africans S’phiwe and Busi Skhosana _ showed off the gleaming new restaurant Thursday with indoor and outdoor seating for 250 people.

Located in a heavily traveled suburban shopping area, it has towering golden arches, South Africa’s first drive-through windows, and a colorful McPlayland with a twisty slide for the under-11 set.

But the burger chain’s entry into South Africa _ the latest in a string of U.S. companies to return or set up shop since apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela became president last year _ has not been easy.

Local businessman George Sombonos, owner of a fried-chicken chain, had registered for himself the McDonald’s trademark in South Africa, plus the trademarks for the Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets, Egg McMuffin and other McDonald’s products.

On Wednesday, he started a copycat ``MacDonald’s″ in downtown Johannesburg. It was attracting long lines of customers Thursday.

A South African judge on Oct. 6 upheld Sombonos’s claim to the trademarks. McDonald’s appealed and a ruling is expected next year.

Jim Skinner, executive vice president of McDonald’s International, did not want to talk about the trademark battle Thursday. ``We’d be happier if it hadn’t happened,″ he said.

South Africa has restaurants modeled on American fast-food franchises. But it has nothing that compares to McDonald’s in speed of service.

The concept of a ``drive-through″ restaurant _ getting food without having to park the car _ was so novel newspapers had to explain it.

``No matter what short-term challenges we may face _ I want to make this part crystal-clear _ McDonald’s is in South Africa to stay,″ said Carter Drew, managing director of the South African operation. ``We are committed to the country of South Africa.″

South Africa is the 86th country to host McDonald’s since the Oakbrook, Ill.-based company started expanding internationally in 1967. Saturday’s grand opening will be followed in one week by the launch of South Africa’s second McDonald’s in Cape Town.

The company expects about 15 franchises to open in South Africa in the next two years.

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