Fast-food fracas part of larger war

Today it's the Battle of the McDonald's drive-through. Tomorrow, the fight will be over Pizza Pizza, Burger King or some other greasy franchise. The Fast-Food Wars are heating up.

The Toronto Star
February 4, 2002

Fast-food fracas part of larger war
Christopher Hume

Today it's the Battle of the McDonald's drive-through. Tomorrow, the fight will be over Pizza Pizza, Burger King or some other greasy franchise.

The Fast-Food Wars are heating up.

The struggle has raged for several years. It first flared up when the community around Danforth Ave. and Pape Ave. in Greektown discovered Tim Hortons and Wendy's were about to move into their neighbourhood. As residents of one of the city's liveliest and most distinctive areas, they were naturally concerned about the powerful homogenizing effect these chains exert on their surroundings.

Though residents didn't manage to keep Wendy's and Tim Hortons out, they did force them to exercise a measure of restraint and good urban manners on their premises. Though the outlet, which houses both operators, is nothing to get excited about, it does a passable job of fitting into the neighbourhood.

After that, there was the bitter encounter between the people who live downtown at Queen and Tecumseth Sts. and a landlord intent on renting a historic building to Tim Hortons. Again, the residents rose up to oppose the doughnut shop. This time, they succeeded. Tim Hortons, recognizing that the location just wasn't worth the fight, decided to stay away.

Then came the struggle to stop Pizza Pizza from destroying a strategically located heritage house in Markham. The chain was intent on plastering the exterior with its trademark orange-and-white tiling. After much discussion with residents and municipal officials, Pizza Pizza was persuaded to do the right thing; the house was restored and painted an appropriate heritage colour, in this case, yellow.

"We were humbled by their intensity," admitted a senior Pizza Pizza employee after the ambush. "It was a tough experience and it cost us a lot of money."

But if Markham succeeded, it was because the entire municipal apparatus was involved in the fighting. Planners, politicians and residents were united in battling the corporate invasion of their community.

By contrast, Torontonians usually find themselves alone in their efforts to stop the fast-food forces. At St. Clair Ave. W. and Christie St., where McDonald's plans to demolish an existing outlet and replace it with a new one that includes a drive-through, the neighbourhood has resisted fiercely. Hundreds of people have
attended two demonstrations held in front of the McDonald's and local councilor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul's) has helped lead the charge.

So far, the response from McDonald's — on behalf of the franchisee — has involved little more than reiterating its determination to go ahead with the ill-conceived plan to install a drive-through in this pedestrian-friendly area. Indeed, as recently as Wednesday, the McDonald's employees appeared before the mid-town community council and refused to reconsider their scheme. What's so revealing, of course, is that McDonald's spends millions of dollars every year to create an image of itself as a corporation that puts people and communities first.

In truth, it is anything but.

If nothing else, the Fast-Food Wars have also revealed the real enemies and just how far they are prepared to go. The smart companies bowed to community demands, but McDonald's isn't there yet. If it builds its drive-through, community anger will only grow. Indeed, McDonald's applied for a building permit just under two weeks ago for the St. Clair site.

A quick search on the Internet lists literally hundreds of similar cases in cities from Brazil and Australia to Romania and the United Kingdom. The response from McDonald's is the same: We do what we want.

But as Councillor Mihevc points out, "People aren't going to forget this. There's such anger in our community that people are now talking about a boycott of McDonald's."

Out of the deep fryer and into the fire.

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