China’s First Fast Food Restaurant
It was April 20 1984, when China’s first western-style fast food restaurant opened its doors in Beijing’s Xidan central area. Beijing vice mayor Zhang Baifa personally came to cut the ribbon of ‘Yili’s Fast Food Shop’ (义利快餐厅).
It was the news of the day. Beijing Evening News reported that “China’s first western fast food restaurant” was now officially opened, and foreign journalists wrote that this was “the next step in China’s reform and open-door policy”. The 150 square metre restaurant was soon full with people coming from all places who wanted to try hamburgers, ham sandwiches and coffee – and experience something ‘foreign’ in Beijing.
The Yili brand was already established in 1906 by Scottish businessman James Neil. The management was taken over by China in the 1940s. Amongst other products they made the famous Yili Bread, which has now become a time-honored Beijing brand.
Although the 1984 restaurant was the first in China, there had already been a fast food truck in Beijing in 1982, as pictured above.
About the day that he first visited Yili, Xinhua-affiliated media researcher Zheng Dejin is quoted in ‘China Remembers’ (2014): “It was the day after the opening, and soft music played while the air-conditioning blew in cool air (..) On the right side, there was a big mirror that made the place seem even bigger.” He also remembers the toilet: “There was a hot-air-blower that would dry your hands within a minute.” The staff used electronic calculators to quickly process customer’s orders (Chen 2014, 159).
Although Yili was successful, it was soon overshadowed by the arrival of Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1987 and McDonald’s in 1990. The Yili restaurant was demolished in 2002.
Fast Food in China, an overview:
1984 – Yili Fast Food: the first western-style fast food restaurant opens in Beijing.
1987 – The first Kentucky Fried Chicken opens its doors in Qianmen, Beijing.
1990 – The first McDonald’s of China begins business in Shenzhen.
1992 – Beijing’s Wangfujing shopping area sees the opening of the biggest McDonald’s in the world.
1996 – Kentucky Fried Chicken celebrates the opening of its 100th store.
2000 – McDonald’s sees its 340th store in mainland China, KFC its 400th.
2014 – McDonalds has over 2000 stores in China, whereas KFC has more than 4000.
– Chen Boyuan. “Century-old bread mill confident in differentiation strategy.” China.org, September 29. http://china.org.cn/business/2014-09/29/content_33648336.htm [16.9.15].
– Chen Yu (ed). 2014. 中国生活记忆 [‘China Remembers’, ‘Memories From Chinese Lives’]. Beijing: Zhongguo Qinggongye Chubanshe.
– Jinan Times.”麦当劳肯德基深陷过期肉事件 中式快餐欲逆袭.” 2014. Jinan Times, August 3. http://www.hibor.com.cn/ecodetail_2377883.html [16.9.15].
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