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The World's 10 Strangest Fast-Food Locations

Minyanville Staff

Among the world's global businesses, what's more ubiquitous than American fast food?

KFC (YUM), for example, deep-fries chicken in more than 20,000 shops around the planet, including a new outlet in Nairobi, Kenya, which opened this summer, becoming America's first fast food outlet in East Africa.

The category king McDonald's (MCD) runs some 32,000 burger joints internationally, while the Starbucks (SBUX) mermaid graces 17,000 espresso-scented shops in 50 countries.

Even Canada's Tim Hortons (THI), a doughnut and coffee chain, recently opened shop in Dubai to immediate success. The chain is planning to open another 120 locations across the Middle East.

But while American travelers are accustomed to seeing familiar brands far from home (for better or worse), there are a few US fast-food openings that have raised some eyebrows. Here, Minyanville reports on the 10 strangest fast-food locations anywhere.


Starbucks in Beijing's Forbidden City

Back during the turn of the millennium, the ubiquity of Starbucks across the US provided Americans with easy access to a caffeine fix, and gave hack comedians an easy update for all those airline-peanut jokes. However, when the Seattle-based coffee giant opened a store in Beijing's Forbidden City, many Chinese felt that Frappucinos had no place in the Son of Heaven's former residence. The Forbidden City's Chinese managers invited Starbucks to open the store in 2000, and the café sat there for six years without much controversy. But in 2007, Chinese TV personality Rui Chenggan spearheaded a popular movement calling for the removal of the café on the basis that it represented the "lower-middle-class culture in the West." In 2007 Starbucks shuttered its Forbidden City location and the former imperial residence regained its dignity. Or not.

Jim Ellis


Burger King in Afghanistan

Napoleon claimed that "an army marches on its stomach," and in the case of the US forces in Afghanistan, that army's stomach is filled with hamburgers and fries. Since last autumn, American troops in Afghanistan have been able to enjoy a tasty, flame-broiled respite from America's longest-running war by stopping in at a Burger King at one of the large US army bases in Afghanistan. Readers may recall that in February of 2010, the United States military drove the burger joint and other fast-food franchises from the field, claiming that the troops needed the space and that the establishments were inappropriate for a theater of war. General McChrystal, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan at the time, who reportedly ate only one meal a day in order to avoid feeling sluggish, probably lacked sympathy for soldiers jonesing for a Whopper.

McChrystal's successors had a change of heart, however, and decided to re-enlist trans-fats as part of the material support for our homesick troops.

Jim Ellis


Domino's on the Moon

Last month Domino's (DPZ) Japanese branch announced the launch of an ambitious, pie-in-the-sky plan to bring everyone's favorite pizza of last resort to the moon. The pizza chain estimates that building the world's first extraterrestrial pizza parlor will cost about $22.2 billion and involve transporting 70 tons of material from Earth aboard a fleet of 15 rockets. When completed at some unspecified date in the future (supposedly within 30 years), denizens of the moon will be able to munch on their Cheesy Bread in the comfort of a two-story dome with a diameter of around 85 feet constructed from concrete mined from the moon's mineral deposits. Despite reports that the moon's current population is holding at zero, Domino Japan's spokesman Tomohide Matsunaga anticipates that "there will be many people living on the moon, astronauts who are working there and, in the future, citizens of the moon." Given the state of the American space program and the ascension of other countries', perhaps a Panda Express might do better business?

Jim Ellis


The Subway in the Sky

Food trucks have become all the rage in New York City, but this Subway located at 1 World Trade Center was two years ahead of the trend. As if it wasn't weird enough that there's a workers-only Subway next to the in-construction Freedom Tower, this particular Subway, housed in a trailer with an American flag draped alongside the trademark green Subway signboard, is also very mobile. But no, it's not going anywhere outside of the construction zone. Instead the trailer has been going vertical. Yes, as each level of 1 World Trade Center has been completed, the sandwich shop has been rising alongside construction, courtesy of a hydraulic lift, so workers don't have to spend precious time getting from the upper floors to street level to get food (Their lunch break is only 30 minutes long). Considering that the building will reach 1,776 feet and 105 stories come 2013, shop attendants at this Subway must have been checked for a fear of heights.

The menu at this lofty location is apparently the same as any elsewhere, with hot dogs and ice cream added in. We've got to give props to franchise owner Richard Schragger, who beat out nine other competing bidders to get Subway placed along 1 WTC because he did not demand a profit from the venture.

Sterling Wong


McDonald's beneath the Museum of Communism, Prague

Thirty years ago, the idea of a McDonald's in Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia would have been considered preposterous. But then the Iron Curtain fell and the end of history, as Francis Fukuyama put it, occurred (except not really).

Communism as a competing ideology has been officially vanquished by good ol' fashioned capitalism, and there's no better way to symbolize the victory than the sight of a McDonald's located right beneath the Museum of Communism in Prague. So perhaps it's more fitting than shocking to see a McDonald's, arguably the most iconic cultural emblem of the West (along with Coca Cola), juxtaposed against a Communism museum. One lives in the present while the other celebrates the past.

Oh, and just to rub salt in Karl Marx's wound, even the Museum of Communism is opened by an American businessman.

Sterling Wong


The Original Kosher Subway

Perhaps the most outrageous thing about the world's first kosher Subway inside the Mandel Jewish Community Center of Cleveland is how it really isn't so outrageous at all. After all, many of the usual Subway favorites like meatball marinara and Italian B.M.T. can be found at this franchise outlet. But, instead of American or cheddar, you'll get non-dairy parve soy cheese, and instead of bacon, you'll get beef fry. To keep things on the straight and narrow, Cleveland Kosher is on location to supervise food preparation, except when this Subway closes on Friday afternoons and Saturdays in observance of the Sabbath.

Credit franchisee Ghazi Fadoul for his business foresight, because kosher subways have taken off since Fadoul ventured down this route five years ago. A quick googling of "kosher subway" brings up outlets in California, Baltimore and Florida, among other states. In fact, Subway now has the most kosher outlets of all fast food chains. Still, if you're, um, a fast food history buff or something, check out this historic kosher subway the next time you pop by Cleveland.

Sterling Wong


Starbucks in Seoul's Historic Insadong District

Starbucks, like McDonald's and other leading Western corporate icons, has become a symbol of the domination of the West in a globalized and increasingly homogenized world. It's not surprising to see anti-globalization protestors rallying against brands like Starbucks at some international summit or another, but the suits at the coffee giant must not have anticipated the backlash they would receive when they opened an outlet at the seemingly innocuous Insadong pedestrian mall in Seoul, Korea. A Starbucks in the capital of one of the US's strongest allies? What would be strange about that?

It turns out that Insadong is actually a district steeped with deep traditional Korean cultural history, so people were unhappy at the invasion of this bastion of American capitalism. In response, Starbucks made some unprecedented changes to the store: changing its familiar logo to one written with the Korean alphabet, redoing the store's layout to look more like a traditional Korean shop, and making staff uniforms look more like tradition Korean costumes. So, no ballcaps for the baristas then?

Sterling Wong


McDonald's "Behind the Mosque" on King Faisal Causeway in Bahrain

McDonald's claims to serve over 47 million customers a day around the world, and their location on the King Faisal Causeway (connecting Bahrain's man-made islands to Saudi Arabia) proves their dedication to making sure no one is deprived of their cheeseburgers and McNuggets. Even more unusual, the fast-food giant placed the store right behind a mosque-- with helpful directions on the sign for hungry, wayward worshippers; see image. Muslims who strictly follow Halal can relax while enjoying their Big Macs with the knowledge that all McDonald's restaurants in the Middle East serve "pure Halal prime-cut beef." McDonald's decided to treat customers in Keeaumoku, Hawaii to an even more iron juxtaposition: A McDonald's next door to a Buddhist temple. Maybe they move a lot of salads there.

Jim Ellis


Burger King by the Dead Sea in Israel

Standing on the shores of the Dead Sea, with its 30% humidity levels and salty breeze, your throat will probably get parched in no time. After frolicking in the so-light-you-can-float waters, what better way is there to quench your thirst and a newly-worked up appetite than a Coke and some onion rings at the local Burger King, conveniently located adjacent to one of the world's saltiest bodies of water? This holy branch found on the west part of the Dead Sea in Israel is also the world's lowest-lying BK, at some 400m below sea level, where the harmful effects from the sun's UV rays are reduced. I can picture it already: Get some Burger King takeout, lay out a beach towel, and sip on an ice-cool cup of soda as you tan on a hot summer's day. And if your fries aren't salty enough, just grab some of the sea salt sediment from the beach. It's probably healthier.

Sterling Wong


KFC in Kathmandu, Nepal

Nepal possesses breathtaking scenery of the world's tallest mountains, and now that KFC and Pizza Hut have opened in the city of Kathmandu, Nepalese might feel short of breath for health reasons as well. The Nepalese, who live in a country where people ride elephants and the sky is framed by the might Himalayans, eagerly lined up outside of the restaurants before their grand opening in November 2009, proving that one man's greasy lunch is in another man's exotic cuisine from abroad. The two restaurant chains, owned by PepsiCo (PEP), did so well at their initial location that they've since expanded to three other cities in Nepal. Aspiring mountain-climbers hoping to follow in Edmund Hillary's footsteps can now be the life of the base camp by bringing a Famous Bowl for dinner.

Jim Ellis