McDonald's Singapore franchise sold: A history of the Golden Arches here

The logo of McDonald's in Los Angeles, California, on April 22, 2016.
The logo of McDonald's in Los Angeles, California, on April 22, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

McDonald's Corp sold its 20-year franchise rights in Singapore and Malaysia to Saudi Arabia's Lionhorn, in a deal whose terms were undisclosed but which Bloomberg reported was likely to have fetched at least US$400 million (S$542.8 million).

The fast food chain transferred its ownership interest in 390 restaurants as part of an international turnaround plan put in place after chief executive officer Steve Easterbrook took over last year.

According to its website, McDonald's currently has more than 120 restaurants in Singapore, staffed by around 9,000 employees.

Here's a look at the history of the Golden Arches in Singapore, where it claims to serve 1.2 million customers each week.

Open for business


People dining at the first McDonald's restaurant in Singapore after it opened at Liat 
Towers in 1979. PHOTO: ST FILE

The first McDonald's opened at Liat Towers in 1979. It claims to have set the world record for the highest volume of hamburgers served in a single day.

The franchise was brought in by former national water polo player Robert Kwan through McDonald's Restaurants Pte Ltd, a joint venture he set up with McDonald's parent company.

He first walked into a McDonald's outlet in 1975 on a driving trip to Las Vegas and became hooked on its burgers.

His first attempt to get a franchise in Singapore failed. But the Chicago-based corporation became interested in bringing its food here in 1977 and signed an agreement with Mr Kwan the following year.

In 2003, Mr Kwan sold his stake, believed to be 10 per cent, which meant that McDonald's Singapore became wholly owned by the head office.

Expanding to China


A McDonald's sign outside the first outlet in China, opened in 1990, at the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, on March 18, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

In 1994, McDonald's Singapore ventured into Wuhan, China, with an initial investment of US$3 million, together with McDonald's USA. It was the first American-style fast food chain of restaurants in Wuhan. The first outlet opened in July, 1995 in the heart of the business and shopping district of Hankou.

The restaurant could seat 400 people and was staffed by 18 managers and about 150 crew - all recruited from Wuhan.

McToy fever


Customers queue for the special edition black Hello Kitty at a McDonald's outlet in Ang Mo Kio on June 26, 2013. PHOTO: ST FILE

While McDonald's has been offering toys at its outlets here since the late 1980s, it was only in 1997 that McToy fever started escalating.

This was with the launch of a Winnie The Pooh and Friends series, as Singaporeans bought 700,000 Pooh plush toys during the promotion.

In 1999, it launched a second Pooh promotion with eight toys. One million items, at $3.50 each, leapt off the counters within 10 days.

This was followed by McTeddy Bears, which sold a whopping 1.5 million pieces.

The subsequent set of 24 Sesame Street Mini Bean Pals sold 2.5 million pieces.

And when 500 pairs of limited-edition Hello Kitty plushes were released at the McDonald's Behind The Golden Arches exhibition later that year, more than 650 people camped outside the Singapore History Museum for almost 12 hours just to stand a chance to buy them.

Indeed, queues for Hello Kitty dolls have become inextricably linked with McDonald's outlets.

It stepped up crowd-control measures in 2014 as quarrels and scuffles among those in line for toys were popping up frequently on social media.

Menu with a local twist


McDonald’s Beef Samurai Tamago with a sunny side up on top of the quarter-pound beef patty dipped in Teriyaki sauce. PHOTO: MCDONALD'S

Catering to Asian taste buds, McDonald's fare in the past have included durian and mango milk shakes, the Samurai burger which features a teriyaki sauce, spicy nuggets and pineapple pies.

Last month, it rolled out (to mixed reviews) a salted egg yolk chicken burger, twister fries with salt and pepper crab-flavoured shaker and gula melaka McFlurry with layer cake (kueh lapis) bites.

Perhaps none had a Singlish flavour more than the "kiasu burger", which it launched in 1993 in a nod to local cartoon icon Mr Kiasu. More than 600,000 burgers were sold in the first four weeks. Of course, four collectible action figurines were up for grabs as well.

In line with the "kiasu" mentality, McDonald's launched a 60-second service challenge during peak hours for a period in 2002. If a customer did not get his order within a minute, he was given either an apple pie or ice-cream cone for free.

Today, to cater to diverse taste buds, selected Singapore outlets offer the Create Your Taste service, allowing customers to choose from a range of ingredients to create their own burgers.

One of a kind


Ngee Ann Polytechnic students studying at the McDonald’s outlet at King Albert Park on Feb 20, 2014. PHOTO: ST FILE

You can find all sorts of people in a typical McDonald's here. from students who apparently find it more conducive for studying than a library to clubbers looking for a pick-me-up meal, and even the odd business meeting.

Some outlets were more popular - and more fondly remembered - than others. The new Marina Cove enclave at East Coast Park was home to an iconic McDonald's branch from 1982 until 2012.

Following from tradition, the new 8,439 sq ft McDonald's Marine Cove will be a testbed of sorts for the chain to try out new products before they are implemented in other outlets here.

The two-storey King Albert Park branch, which opened in the 1980s, was also a favourite haunt for students from the many schools around the area.

There were unique locations too.

In 1997, McDonald's opened an outlet in disk drive maker Seagate's factory in Ang Mo Kio, the first time a fast food chain open in a staff canteen. Other "non-traditional" branches around the island at the time included Singapore Polytechnic and Jurong Bird Park.

It is not surprising for McDonald's, which has previously set up on a European luxury passenger liner, a naval base in the US, and a "ski-thru" on the ski slopes in Sweden, which runs along the same lines as a drive-thru.

Training the next generation


Senior Minister of State for Education and Law Indranee Rajah at the launch of the McCafe Training Academy on June 2, 2014. PHOTO: ST FILE

In 2014, McDonald's set up a training cafe for Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students to give them more hands-on work experience.

The McCafe Training Academy at ITE College West was modelled after the fast-food chain's cafe outlets. It also served as a barista training facility for McCafe staff.

McDonald's first traineeship programme with ITE attracted 17 trainees - the most for a single employer partnering ITE at the time.

The trainees spent four days a week stationed at different McDonald's outlets around the island, and another day on campus for lessons.