Vietnamese Get Their First Big Mac Attack

By Dow Jones Business News, 
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By Vu Trong Khanh

HO CHI MINH CITY--McDonald's opened its first restaurant in Vietnam to huge crowds eager to try a Big Mac, with people waiting in long, velvet-roped lines or on motor scooters inching up to the drive-through.

McDonald's let in its first customers on Saturday at its flagship 24-hour store on crowded Dien Bien Phu street in Ho Chi Minh City, the country's economic hub. The crowds frequently outnumbered the available 350 seats, with the largely young clientele snapping selfies with the golden arches symbol behind and posting their appearance at the milestone on social media sites.

In addition to McDonald's standbys, customers could try McPork sandwiches, pioneered for the pork-loving country.

"It's very tasty and the size is just about right for my lunch," Nguyen Trung Kien, 26, said after finishing a McPork, priced at $3.10, a not-so-cheap lunch in a city where street vendors sell a bowl of beef noodle soup for $1.50.

The official launch was on Monday, when Don Thompson, McDonald's global chief executive, said Vietnam offers " tremendous opportunity to grow our brand." He declined to answer questions about expansion plans and revenue targets.

McDonald's is the latest global chain entering Vietnam, which has a population of 90 million and an average economic growth rate of 7% over the past decade, one of the fastest in Asia.

Fast-food trailblazer KFC, which arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in 1997, now has 135 outlets in 19 cities and provinces throughout Vietnam. Burger King opened its first restaurant here in 2012, and now has 13 outlets in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Danang. Last February, Starbucks opened its first outlet in the city.

Meanwhile, Philippines-based Jollibee and South Korea's Lotteria arrived in 1998.

Vietnam "is a very young and vibrant market place...and we think it's now time to have [a] McDonald's experience in Vietnam," CEO Thompson told The Wall Street Journal.

The restaurant, the 10,000th for the chain in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions, is the first 24- hour, drive-through restaurant in Vietnam.

McDonald's chose Henry Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American investor and the son-in-law of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, as its main franchise partner in the country.

Mr. Nguyen said the restaurant served 20,000 customers on each of its first two days.

Mr. Nguyen said the next McDonald's restaurant is scheduled to be opened in the city in three months. He declined to offer further expansion details.

"We want our restaurants to be places within the communities they serve where friends and families can enjoy a special McDonald's experience," Mr. Nguyen said. "The opening of our first restaurant in Vietnam is just the beginning of a journey with our customers."

Chung Thanh Dung, 24, ate his first McChicken after waiting in line for 15 minutes on Sunday.

"It's quite good...better than most of the fast-food items I have tried, " Mr. Dung said.

Pham Thi Huong Phuong, 24, predicted young people like herself will like socializing at America's golden arches.

"Eating at McDonald's is...a way of a modern life for us young people. It's not only a place to have a meal, but also a place to hang out with friends," said Miss Phuong.

But she predicts Vietnamese people will still prefer local food.

"I can eat rice and pho (beef or chicken noodle soup) daily, but McDonald's...well, not quite," Ms. Phuong said.

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