Two famous Russian film directors, the brothers Andrei Konchalovsky and Nikita Mikhalkov, say they will follow in the footsteps of many Hollywood celebrities by opening up their own chain of restaurants. But there's a twist.
The pro-Kremlin brothers say they aren't doing it as a hobby or to diversify their interests. Rather, they're trying to raise patriotic awareness about the dangers of Western fast-food, and drive popular chains like McDonald's out of the Russian market. And, oh yes, in the spirit of the times, they're asking their friend, Vladimir Putin, to invest about $18 million in the project. The brothers themselves would put up about 30 percent of the startup costs.
The Moscow daily Kommersant reported the story Friday, publishing excerpts of a letter by the two directors to Mr. Putin. It stresses the "social and political nature" of the venture, which would be a chain of "healthy" fast food eateries and coffee shops, starting in Moscow and Kaluga, to be named "Eating at Home."
"The aim of the project is to facilitate import substitution and create an alternative to Western fast food chains," the letter said.
Experts say that hits several politically correct nails on the head. "Import substitution" is the current jargon for helping Russia develop its domestic economic potential in defiance of Western sanctions. The brothers stress that the restaurants would seek out and favor local food sources, and would also cater to local hospitals, schools, and orphanages.
In what also rings a patriotic bell, they explicitly target McDonald's, the hugely popular fast food chain that currently runs about 440 locations around the country. The US-owned, but totally Russian-run McDonald's has been a near perpetual red flag for Russian nationalists. Last year almost half of the chain's outlets were shut down by health inspectors amid an intense campaign against it waged by nationalist politicians.
The new patriotic chain, though state-funded, would apparently be a largely family affair. It would be run by the wife of Mr. Konchalovsky, actress Yulia Vysotskaya, who already has a cooking show and line of food products, conveniently named "Eat at Home!"
Konchalovsky, who worked in Hollywood in the 1980s, is famous for his work on both sides of the Atlantic. Mr. Mikhalkov won the 1995 Oscar for Best Foreign Film for his searing portrayal of life during Stalin's 1930s purges, "Burnt by the Sun".
"This is a very contemporary kind of business project," says Nikolai Svanidze, a well-known Russian TV personality. "Mikhalkov has access to 'person number one' and can lobby effectively for support. His brother and his brother's wife will be managers. It's all being sold with lots of patriotism. Every project these days must be smothered in patriotic sauce."