McDonald’s not lovin’ rebel franchise
McDonald’s in India has an unlikely problem: it is struggling to stop restaurants selling its food.
Eight weeks after the company cancelled its franchise agreement with a partner in Delhi, more than 150 restaurants across northern India, replete with the famous golden arches, are still churning out the Maharaja Mac, a chicken version of the Big Mac, and a spicy potato burger, the McAloo Tikki.
The US fast food company is fighting to reclaim control of its brand after a long and acrimonious dispute.
Vikram Bakshi, an Indian property tycoon, yesterday described McDonald’s efforts to force him out as "a coup" and "capitalism gone mad". Through his company, Connaught Plaza Restaurants, he has vowed to continue selling McDonald’sbranded food and drinks, to the fury of the company.
"It’s like an American soap opera. Maybe they are used to watching these sort of programmes but this is not how things work in the real world," a defiant Mr Bakshi told The Times.
McDonald’s restaurants in India serve neither beef nor pork, in accordance with Hindu and Muslim religious rules, but that has not dented the brand’s appeal. The chain opened its first outlet in 1996, in partnership with Mr Bakshi, and now has 400 selling local variations of its menu.
Despite this success, the relationship with Mr Bakshi soured. McDonald’s first tried to buy him out and then sought to have him removed as managing director of the franchise. The dispute shuttled between the boardroom and the courts until August, when McDonald’s cancelled their agreement.
Mr Bakshi appears unruffled by his stand-off with the company. Business is good, he claims. Citing a previous ruling in his favour by an Indian commercial court, he adds that McDonald’s treatment has been, "unjust, unfair, illegal and malicious".
"They’re trying to wind up the company. They don’t care about the 6800 employees . . . or the suppliers. We have a joint venture with them and we are carrying on as normal."
McDonald’s is said to have tried leaning on suppliers to choke off the Indian restaurants, but most have continued to sell to Mr Bakshi as their contracts are with Connaught Plaza rather than McDonald’s. Mr Bakshi says he has simply found replacements for those who caved in to pressure from the US.
McDonald’s says that Connaught Plaza is "no longer authorised to use the McDonald’s system and its associated intellectual property," and has said it is reapplying to the courts to terminate the agreement.
There are even suggestions it might tear down the golden arches from Mr Bakshi’s restaurants - an ignominious end to a once-fruitful partnership. the attention of the guard just added to the thrill. The evidence of this particular brand of fun can probably still be found amongst the riverbed’s stones.
My adored maternal grandparents lived in Tai Tapu, south of Christchurch, and each May our family travelled south. My first trips down the east coast highway were in Newman’s tall teal-blue buses. We boarded these roaring, wheezing leviathans in Rai Valley after a dark and chilly early morning start followed by the winding two-hour drive in the Land Rover from our Waikawa Bay home.
It was a long day but filled with small excitements: the first sight of the foamy aqua and navy-blue sea at the Ure, spotting seals lolling on the pinkish barnacled rocks further down the coast, the whale bone arches in the township’s gardens, and the thrill of driving through the road tunnels just north of Oaro.
The bus stopped at Kaikoura for lunch at a bright blue tearooms tucked under the town’s escarpment. We ate ham sandwiches (no mustard please) and sausage rolls with bright red tomato sauce and were allowed a strawberry or banana milk shake noisily whizzed up in a tall metal beaker.
If a train rattled alongside the highway, we always waved to the driver and were often rewarded with a wave and a toot of the whistle. Oh the excitement!
All that was a long time ago, but those happy journeys mean we both have a great affection for the east coast highway, despite abandoning it for the shorter Lewis Pass route to Christchurch for most of our adult years.
The highway south of Blenheim was nearly empty of traffic. There still tipped with snow, appeared like dramatic divas behind the backdrop of spring-green hills and dark bush.
The road has lost its even surface and at every bridge, no matter how small, your vehicle’s entry and exit is marked by a gentle but definite bump. The land has dropped away or all the bridges have popped up – either option speaks to the power of the November quake. Road signs tilt towards the sea and telephone poles incline away from the vertical as they climb the hillsides.
The drivable road ends just south of the Clarence River. The bridge is one-way with a 10kph speed restriction, suggesting it needs major repair and strengthening work. Upstream and down, the vast riverbed has been turned into a shingle quarry.
On the south side of the bridge are a pair of 1.8m Cyclone gates and a sort of guard-house where anyone entering the work zone must sign in. We turned the car for the journey home, feeling conspicuous in our sedan amongst the construction vehicles, underdressed without the east coast uniform of hi-vis and hard hats.
On the way home we ate our sandwiches and drank our thermos coffee on the empty stretch of beach near Valhalla Road, south of Kekerengu. The sun shone. There was not a breath of wind. The North Island was a clear grey hump in the distance with one feathery cloud sitting above Cape Palliser and waves thudded onto the sand and gravel shore.
Despite all the damage, the east coast route retains its edgy charm. On a calm and sunny day, few New Zealand roads compare. We’re looking forward to driving its whole length some day soon.