By all accounts, McDonald’s is doing just fine. The fast food behemoth’s sales have been great, with price increases adding to its bottom line. But McDonald’s is also... McDonald’s. It’s just there. Aside from some collaborations with celebrities and the occasional introduction of a new sandwich or sauce, it mostly serves as the unchanging standard against which all other fast food is measured. But the company is launching a new concept, seemingly aimed at capturing a younger, and more mobile, market.
Enter CosMc’s. Locals have spotted a location of the new “small format” (aka small-to-no dining room) chain getting ready to open in Bolingbrook, Illinois. Eater has reached out to McDonald’s for more information.
The new concept was first announced on the company’s earnings call in July, with CEO Chris Kempczinski saying it will have “all the DNA of McDonald’s but its own unique personality.” The chain is named after CosMc, an orange alien character introduced to the McDonaldland universe in 1987, who attempts to take a cheeseburger picnic back to his home planet before being convinced by Ronald McDonald that sharing is better. He would also go on to be a character in the videogame M.C. Kids, a very obvious Super Mario knockoff.
In McDonald’s 2022 earnings report, the company said it would continue focusing on digital, delivery, and drive-thru services, and that the “vast majority of new restaurant openings in the U.S. and International Operated Market segments will include a drive thru.” CosMc’s seems to be the embodiment of that mission, and a way for the company to expand its real estate footprint, given that’s how the company really makes its money anyway. “A big reason that we can now look at [small formats] is because of the growth that’s happened with the digital and delivery where you don’t necessarily need the big dining rooms that you needed in our traditional restaurants,” Kempczinski said in July. “So you’re now able to look at real estate sites that previously would have been sort of off limits to us.”
On December 6, Kempczinski provided more details at the McDonald’s Investor Day presentation. “We asked what would happen if a McDonald’s character that was part alien, part surfer and part robot would open a restaurant in 2023,” he said. Apparently, it’s drinks and breakfast sandwiches. The company plans on opening as many as 10 locations in the next year before deciding on next steps, with 9 of those opening in Texas, but Kempczinski said the company hopes CosMc has “global appeal.”
The logo on the Bolingbrook restaurant features a single golden arch with the barest hint of Googie design, clearly signaling the connection to McDonald’s. The actual CosMc character seems nowhere to be found. As for the menu, X user Iman Jalali posted some early photos, which show CosMc’s focusing on drinks, breakfast, and other items more likely found on the McCafe menu. There are “galactic boost” beverages like a Berry Hibiscus Sour-Ade, and cold coffee drinks like a churro frappe and a turmeric spiced latte. There are also McMuffins, McFlurrys, and two original sandwiches, the Creamy Avocado Tomatillo Sandwich and the Spicy Queso Sandwich. Both appear vegetarian, and are hopefully better than the McPlant.
With over half of the menu space constituting multicolored, iced drinks, and a largely drive-thru experience, it’s pretty clear CosMc’s is designed to compete with Starbucks, which still trails McDonald’s in size and sales, but has been beating it out on “brand value,” meaning the financial value of customers wanting to be associated with your brand. Kempczinski confirmed this on December 6, saying the company wanted in on the specialty beverage market, but felt they had to develop a new concept rather than fold that into existing McDonald’s operations.
When it comes to working conditions, however, both McDonald’s and Starbucks seem to be in a race to the bottom. Starbucks’s alleged union busting continues, and it has enraged workers and customers anew by suing Starbucks Workers United over the group’s pro-Palestinian social media posts. And multiple McDonald’s locations have recently been fined over their use of child labor.
McDonald’s told Business Insider on November 27 it would reveal more details during a conference “later this month” (it’s the end of the month), but it looks like anyone near Bolingbrook will be able to test out the concept soon.
We do have one lingering question, though. The fanfare over Grimace shakes this summer surely gave McDonald’s an easy entrance into the beverage market, and yet it’s going with CosMc, a character barely anyone remembers. Why, we ask, is McDonald’s too cowardly to give Grimace his own restaurant? Oh, it’s probably because Grimace shakes lead to disaster.
Update: December 7, 2023, 10:19 a.m.: This article was updated to include new information from McDonald’s.