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Ruinous news from Italy, where McDonald’s has just opened up a new branch in a suburb of the Lazio town of Marino. This latest addition to the empire of the Golden Arches, however, is a fast food outlet with a difference.
When ground was broken on the site back in 2014, construction workers uncovered a previously unknown Roman road, which experts believe once connected to the Appian Way. Rather than give up on the projected restaurant, McDonald’s struck a deal with Italy’s culture ministry and spent some €300,000 on restoration and display work. The result is what McDonald’s Italia boss Mario Federico describes as the chain’s ‘first museum-restaurant’.
Said attraction features a glass floor, from where diners can gaze down at the remains of the ancient thoroughfare as they pick at their McNuggets and Big Macs. There is even a separate entrance in the car park, through which less hungry visitors can enter the ruins without need to purchase so much as a Filet-O-Fish.
The scheme’s positive reception is something of a first in McDonalds’s dealings with Italian heritage spots. When the chain opened its first Italian branch on Rome’s Piazza di Spagna in 1986, hoards of locals flocked to the square to protest. One local politician described the franchise as ‘the principal cause of degradation of the ancient Roman streets’, while fashion designer Valentino launched a legal action to have it closed down, complaining of the ‘significant and constant noise and an unbearable smell of fried food fouling the air’.
The episode marked the beginning of an ill-starred relationship between McDonald’s and Italy’s cultural cognoscenti. As recently as last year, Florentine authorities refused the chain permission to open a branch in the city’s Piazza del Duomo. McDonald’s subsequently attempted to sue the city of Florence for $20 million. The company launched a similar lawsuit against Milan in 2012 when the city awarded the lease of a site in the 19th-century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, where there had been a McDonald’s branch for 20 years, to a fashion brand.
And then there is Rome. When McDonald’s announced plans to open an outlet in the cluster of streets leading to the Vatican, Cardinal Elio Sgreccia described the scheme as a ‘disgrace’, adding that the site would be better used to help the destitute. The venture, he said, was ‘not at all respectful of the architectural and urban traditions of one of the most characteristic squares overlooking the colonnade of St Peter’. The restaurant opening went ahead as planned in December – but clearly, not everyone was lovin’ it.