There are very few chain restaurants or franchises operating on the pacific island nations which we visit during YPT’s Least Visited Countries Tour. This year, we added a Part 3, which took us on a chartered flight from Samoa to our final destination of Tonga via a 90 minute layover in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
Sticking with YPT’s rules of engagement for having visited a country, our tour group cleared immigration, and found a friendly local in the airport cafe with a sedan who was up for a drive. After acquiring a second car from our local guide’s cousin, and with one of our own guides behind the wheel, we took a one hour drive up the Pago Pago coastline to the parliament, also known as the American Samoa Fono.
American Samoa, of course, offers scenic, rolling hills, dotted with palm trees, and a beautiful coastline. However, being an American Overseas Territory (its inhabitants are classified as ‘subjects’ and not ‘citizens’), we instantly noticed the American influence by the vast number of fast-food chains from Pizza Hut to McDonald’s; the latter once being the subject of hot debate on the island.
About 500 meters up the road from the parliament and governor’s office is a uniquely designed, McDonald’s “By the Bay.” Today, it has a number of positive trip advisor and yelp reviews noting the novelty its location: “where else in the world is there a waterfront McDonald’s!?”
It is helpful to remember that McDonald’s is not only one of the world’s largest fast food chains, but also mc-doubles as one of the world’s biggest real-estate companies; its real estate assets are estimated at over $28 billion. It has been speculated that should business take a dramatic downturn, McDonald’s could go from flipping burgers to flipping properties. Therefore, a scenic waterfront location on an island paradise has a greater significance than just offering customers a nice view as they chow down on Big Macs.
The McDonald’s Bay the Bay location, however, did not come without a fight. In 2006, American Samoa’s then-Governor Tulafono approved an original location 1km down the road at Utulei Beach Park. The decision sparked an outcry as it was viewed by many as a blemish on American Samoa’s only public beach. After two years of protests and a lawsuit, the peoples’ voices were heard and the new, current location was approved and opened just up the road from Utulei Beach Park on November 24, 2008.
According to the Pacific Islands Report, at the opening ceremony, then-Governor Tulafono decided to not to read his prepared statement. “After looking around [and] his eyes caught the letter “M” (for McDonald’s),” wrote Pacific Islands Report, “he said the letter “M” is very dear to him – which is the letter that begins his wife’s first name – Maryann.”
As for the food, fast-food connoisseurs will no doubt be delighted to find on the menu the rare Triple Cheeseburger, a breakfast platter consisting of spam, eggs and rice, as well as the Big Mac in three sizes: Jr, Big, and Grand!
So if you find yourself in Pago Pago, American Samoa, take the short drive to McDonald’s By The Bay. As you pass the pristine Utulei Beach Park on the way, let it remind you that power to the people still exists in a small community like American Samoa… or maybe the politicians just decided it was better to have the McDonald’s within walking distance of parliament.