This is a tale of a hippo emulating a behemoth. The outcome is a Central Asian version of a Happy Meal.
For a region that has long associated the term “gamburger” with Turkish-style mutton sliced from a spit, the meals served up at Begemot are a bit unfamiliar—beef patties on a fresh white bun, layered with cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup and mayonnaise. Even stranger, the food is served up in less than five minutes, even at peak hours, and made to order by an assembly line of young men and women dressed in clean red and white uniforms.
McDonald’s still hasn’t arrived in Central Asia, but Bishkek-based Begemot (“Hippopotamus”) has proven that there is a strong earnings potential for homegrown interpretations of Western business models in the region. Begemot has grown quickly since it opened in 2007.
“We have always had fast food, of course -- samsa, chebureki, and so on,” Begemot co-founder Sergey Mogiev explained, referring to fried Central Asian staples. “But no one had ever recreated the true Western fast food experience.”
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Myles Smith is a freelance reporter focusing on Central Asia.