Fried chicken aficionados lined up for hours at Myanmar's first KFC restaurant Tuesday, as the U.S. restaurant chain became the latest big foreign brand to open an outlet in the long-cloistered nation.
KFC is the first major U.S. fast-food chain to open in the country as reforms and the removal of most sanctions since the end of outright junta rule tempt investors to a market of millions of prospective consumers. Soon after the doors opened a lunchtime crush developed at the new branch in the commercial hub of Yangon. The firm and its local partner, Yoma Strategic, hope it will be the first of many restaurants across the Southeast Asian country. Businessman Kyaw Moe stood in line for three hours to buy chicken for eight family members including school-age nieces and nephews. "I want them to taste this. It is my first time. My aunt in Singapore says it is also famous there," the 50-year-old told Agence France-Presse (AFP), brushing off concerns that a taste for foreign fast-food could lead to expanding waistlines.
"It is internationally famous, so I think it must be healthy," he said. Western brands were a rare sight in Myanmar under military rule, which kept the country isolated from the outside world for nearly half a century.
Myanmar's economy was left in tatters after years of mismanagement under the junta, but reforms under a quasi-civilian government have raised expectations of an economic surge in the resource-rich nation of 51 million potential consumers. U.S. firms including drinks makers Coca-Cola and Pepsi and carmakers Chevrolet and Ford have already established a sales presence in the country. While "The Colonel" might have beaten other major U.S. fast-food chains into the frontier Asian market, it is not the first foreign fast-food firm to open in Myanmar.
South Korea's Lotteria burger restaurant opened its first branch in 2013 and now has seven outlets in the country.
KFC is operating in partnership with a Myanmar franchise holder. Its 240-seat Yangon branch will offer "hearty and generous portions" and "accessible prices," according to a statement released to the press.
"It has been our dream for a long time to have a KFC in Yangon, one of the great cities of the world," said KFC head Micky Pant, adding that the country is "poised for strong economic growth in the coming years."
KFC, which has more than 19,400 restaurants in 120 countries around the world, said 80 percent of its development is in emerging markets. Excited young customers took selfies with mobile phones - themselves a rare luxury only a few years ago - at the restaurant on Tuesday.
Htet Ei, an 18-year-old student in line with three friends, said she had checked on the restaurant every day since she found out it would open. "Now young people here can eat like young people in other countries," she told AFP. "I'll always come here."