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Finding a purpose in life is tough. For Max Krieger, it was simple: find and document the most unusual McDonald’s locations of the world.
A game designer by day, Krieger, 28, has spent the last year and a half scouring the Internet for photos of unusually themed McDonald’s locations and posting them to Twitter.
His project is called Nonstandard McDonald’s, and it celebrates the eccentricity of themed locations. Many of them have been demolished or remodeled, like the UFO-shaped McDonald’s in England, but few still exist in their glory, like the gothic cellar McDonald’s in Poland or the fry-and-shake monstrosity in Las Vegas.
Next year, Krieger plans to take his project to the real world. He’s visiting 12 “nonstandard McDonald’s” in Florida with a film crew to tell their stories — the preservation, creation and exactly why they are so appealing. He’s visiting both active (still funky) and deceased (remodeled) locations.
His documentary project is unaffiliated with McDonald’s. And to thwart legal trouble, Krieger is making it completely free.
“I think if they were going to cease and desist me, they would’ve done it already,” Krieger said.
Krieger has always had a fascination for oddly decorated spaces. Case in point: a Twitter thread he made on The Cheesecake Factory’s over-the-top Egyptian-Victorian fusion interior made its way to Time Magazine in 2017.
Documenting McDonald’s locations is the first thing that took on a life of its own. The account skyrocketed in popularity, with roughly 158,000 followers.
the location closed at some time in the early 2000’s and sat abandoned for several years until it was demolished in 2008. pic.twitter.com/872dn5zQl3
— nonstandard mcdonald’s (@nonstandardmcd) July 22, 2021
“Certainly seeing people re-appreciate something that they had forgotten about feels fulfilling,” Krieger says. “It feels like I’m putting something that’s an emotional net positive into the world with my online content.”
The account has a distinct appeal. McDonald’s is a common denominator among so many people, Krieger says. The restaurant unites people under a common experience, and nearly everyone has a memory associated with the brand.
People tend to develop emotional attachments to places where they have found a sense of stability, says Krystine Batcho, a psychology professor at Le Moyne College who studies nostalgia. Familiarity is an antidote to anxiety and the fear of the unknown, and the consistency of McDonald’s food and recognition of the brand brings a sense of comfort.
When Krieger thinks about the restaurant, he remembers only good things. McDonald’s was a safe haven — a place to meet with friends and family, the final stop during a night out. He’d spend childhood afternoons in front of the television mesmerized by the Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald cartoon on VHS.
McDonald’s wouldn’t speak about Krieger’s project directly, but it said the company “has so much love for these unique and creative McDonald’s locations around the world and the sense of nostalgia they bring” in a statement to NPR.
Krieger doesn’t expect the project to save quirky McDonald’s locations from standardization. “I’m having a good time,” he says. “If I stop having a good time, I’ll rein it in.”