For every single successful fast-food chain, there must be dozens of knockoff versions found around the globe. We wish we had a real fact-checked statistic for you, but something like this is impossible to calculate. Heck, Kentucky Fried Chicken — KFC — has spawned numerous imposters, including Kansas Fried Chicken, Kermiya Fried Chicken, Mega Fried Chicken, Kennedy Fried Chicken, and Obama Fried Chicken (more on that later), not to mention CBC, SFC, KFG, and YFC.
While the food is most likely not comparable to the real deal, what makes these places such a beloved phenomenon of food culture is the bootleg effort to appeal to fast food fans while staying out of legal hot water … mostly. Major players in this realm are the McDonald’s (best wannabe: Michael Alone. We will explain) and Starbucks Coffee (best wannabe: Starf**** Coffee) copycats, but others might make you do a spit-take after your first sip of Tim Morton’s Mocha Gold.
So, heat up a leftover slice of pizza from Pizza Hat and get ready for some shameless fakery.
If you’re ever in China with a hankering for a medium Strawberry Cheesequake Blizzard, just try to see how close you can get to your nearest Dairy Fairy. This bootleg Dairy Fairy is located primarily in China, but you can also find them, oddly enough, in South Africa. That was according to its website — when it had one anyway.
The fast-food chain has a similar color scheme, logos, and uniforms, and offers chiefly Blizzards, which are called Ice Storms. Options include the usual — Oreo cookies, somewhat fresh fruits, and other familiar candies. Employees also serve the cupped, heavy dessert of soft serve ice cream and candy upside-down. A signature DQ move. They even perform this traditional act at another knockoff Dairy Queen, this one in Pakistan. In true DQ fashion, Dairy Fairy can be found in an indoor shopping mall, usually neighbored by a knockoff Orange Julius. Though no hilarious name was given.
What’s more, the copycat’s tagline is "the taste of California" — never mind that Dairy Queen was founded in Joliet, Illinois. Americans can be guilty here, too though. Other Dairy Queen rip-offs include the easily named Dairy King, which is actually found in Connecticut.
There are more McDonald’s rip-offs in this world than we can name here, but we’ll still list a few for fun. There’s Hot Dognald’s in New Delhi, McDoner in Kazakhstan, MaDonal in Iraq, and McTorta’s in Mexico, McDowell’s in Coming to America, and WacArnold’s in Chapelle’s Show. But the most mysterious, and chuckle-worthy, imposter might be Michael Alone.
This phony McDonald’s in China has a menu of burgers, fries, and nuggets, along with the golden arches logo — only it’s upside-down. But the name is what makes this fast food rip-off one of the more well-known culprits. The namesake is apparently from Home Alone (via Eat This, Not That!). The movie title is translated in Chinese as "Little boy, the head of household." Thanks to some jumbling with Chinese characters with the movie title and the name McDonald’s, it came out the other end as Michael Alone. A Reddit user breaks it down pretty well, but that’s still just one theory.
And if you want to take the mystery one step further and get really weird, there’s also Wichael Alone.
Burger King is America’s favorite runner up. It’s incredibly recognizable, the round red, yellow, and blue button-looking icon that almost calls to passersby, "Press here for burgers, crunchy fries, and chicken sandwiches." And this familiarity is great fodder for copycat fast food companies. Cue Burger Friends, a BK rip-off that started in Iraq in 2012.
Apparently, Burger Friends was part of a wave of Americanized, quick-service eateries in Bagdad (along with Florida Fried Chicken, Mr. Potato, and Pizza Boat according to News.com.au). A fan of the American fast food, Osama al-Ani, an Iraqi government employee said, "We’re fed up with traditional food. We want to try something different."
Except to Americans, dining at Burger Friends wouldn’t be all that different. The restaurant uses the same color scheme and serves burgers, fries, and soft drinks. Other great Burger King copycats include Burger Joint, also in Iraq, and one simply called Cheese Burger in China — that last one blatantly stealing the BK logo and look.
Taco Bell Grande
Before Taco Bell officially arrived in China, there was Taco Bell Grande. The name isn’t too hilarious, but it’s almost funny how unremarkable it is. The restaurants were operated by Yum China, which now actually oversees the real Taco Bell locations in China — as well as KFC and Pizza Hut (via Eater).
Taco Bell Grande first opened in 2003 in Shenzhen and Shanghai. All stores were closed in 2008 (via The Beijinger), but much like a chalupa supreme, they did leave a lingering taste. These were full-service restaurants offering Tex-Mex menu items — tacos and fajitas — in a somewhat upscale, sit-down environment. The Chinese Taco Bell knockoff had a dinnertime restaurant feel, and also offered oxtail soup and smoked salmon, even a free serving of chips and salsa like your favorite neighborhood cantina.
The experience was just that, an experience. There was a bilingual menu, waitstaff in traditional Mexican dress, live mariachi bands, and classic Mexican restaurant-style décor. That’s one step up from hitting the dinky drive-thru for the Crunchwrap and a Mountain Dew Baja Blast.
Locations of Dunkin’ Donuts (or sorry, just Dunkin now), are springing up across the United States in rapid succession. But you won’t find the doughnut and coffee chain in Spain under that name (called Dunkin’ Coffee since 2007 according to Business Insider), so there’s something of a Dunkin’ Donuts hole.
Cue Duffin Dagels, the Spanish bootleg version of DD. It has the same color scheme, a similar logo, and it serves doughnuts (called Duffins), as well as coffee, ice cream, and sugary breakfast items.
There are at least 30 in the country as of a recent count, with the opportunity to jump on as a franchisee right there on the company’s website (yes, this is a copycat company that actually has a website and social media accounts). And according to that website the people here "have always put a lot of love in the making of our famous Duffins donuts." We’re not sure how famous the doughnuts are so much as that fun name.
Obama Fried Chicken
OFC probably sounds like more of a mixed-martial-arts knockoff than a bootleg fast food chain, but we promise, what we’re about to tell you is hilariously real. OFC is an initialism of Obama Fried Chicken, a chicken and (weirdly) burger joint that’s a rip-off of Kentucky Fried Chicken found in China (via Business Insider). The eatery uses the red and white color scheme and similar typeface, plus a graphic image of a smiling President Barack Obama meets Colonel Sanders — bowtie, apron, and all. There’s even a tagline — "We so cool, aren’t we?" — which seems to complete the American package.
The restaurant was established by three college kids in Beijing, one of which Zhu Baolai, even designed the Obama logo (via Metro). But in 2011, it all came tumbling down. KFC caught wind and considered legal action, and Rev. Al Sharpton called the logo offensive (via The Washington Post). But KFC is one to talk, since it was in hot water that same year for airing a commercial in Hong Kong with an Obama impersonator.
Soon after, OFC scrapped that specific abbreviation and changed it to (again, weirdly) UFO. But despite the spacey theme, the smiling Obama logo remains.
Are there any other KFC knockoffs? Tons, including Kansas Fried Chicken, Kermiya Fried Chicken, Mega Fried Chicken, and Kennedy Fried Chicken. Not to mention CBC, SFC, KFG, YFC, and more. There was also, for real, a Hitler KFC knockoff.
Tehran, the capital of Iran, is home to many historic sites, cultural attractions, and worldly cuisine — that last part you won’t find at Pizza Hat. The Pizza Hut knockoff is a "thriving" (via Esquire) pizza chain with the same color scheme, menu, and logo — except for, once again, the hat. The emblem features a man in a red hat, which also reminds us a little bit more of Pizza Patron.
Apparently, the pizza at The Hat looks pretty similar to The Hut, except for loads more dill seasoning, according to Eat This, Not That! anyway. You can see for yourself at the Pizza Hat Instagram, which you can also see literal pizza hats. Sadly, this account hasn’t been updated in more than five years — a pretty sure sign of the pizza shop’s demise.
Canada’s best mid-level coffee and doughnut chain has some competition in Seoul. Dubbed simply Tim House, the South Korean knockoff was spotted by a Canadian expatriate and English teacher while cycling through Seoul near Daerim subway station (via CTV News).
The corner shop sells coffee under a red and white logo with a similar script font to the real thing, Tim Hortons. Timmie’s didn’t love seeing the bootleg version, even on the other side of the planet. A Tim Hortons spokesperson told CBC News the company doesn’t have any operations in South Korea, and they plan to protect their intellectual property, especially as they expand to international marketplaces.
To double up on the biter culture, South Korea soon struck again. Another Canadian English teacher spotted a rip-off product in the Dongdaemun Market shopping district while visiting Seoul (via Toronto Star). It was something called Tim Morton’s Mocha Gold Coffee Mix. Cooly, Tim Hortons had a similar litigious reaction.
Subway has had a presence in the Middle East for more than 30 years, the initial one opened in Bahrain in 1984 (via The Daily Meal). This was also the very first international location (though the world-famous chain is now found on every continent sans Antarctica). This honor may be why the region seems to be taking Oscar Wilde’s well-known phrase so literally: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."
This wannabe Subway located in Yemen is easy to pick out of a crowded strip mall. Sunny Day has the same color scheme, bright yellow, green, and white, and most likely has literal sandwich boards at the entrance.
There’s actually another Subway biter in the Middle East along with the Sunny Day sub shop. It’s in Iran, and its sign merely has the Subway letters scrambled, along with an extra "s" and "e" for some reason. So good luck, on pronouncing that name. Other Subway substitutes include FreshWay in Iran, and, in China, simply Sandwich. That last one actually inspired an entire restaurant review from That’s Magazine. In short: Good prices, bad food.
Remember that old gag from King of Queens, when Arthur Spooner says he wants to order pizza from a little neighborhood joint called Duh-mean-noh’s? Killer.
While this will always be the funniest riff on the American pizza chain Domino’s, a close second is easily Dominic’s Pizza. The United Kingdom-based pizzeria has probably made many a visiting American do a double-take. It uses the same red, white, and blue color scheme, sometimes with a little bit of bright yellow slipped in. What’s more, the menu promises kebabs, burgers, and southern fried chicken along with your pizza. But don’t worry, they still deliver.
But the best part of this bizarro logo is the "domino." Actually, calling it a domino is generous. It’s more like an abstract piece of stock art from a 1980s hotel room. The logo is so close to the real thing, it’s led one Irish food writer to claim it’s, "Basically the same after a couple of pints …"
Where to start on the imposter Starbucks Coffee shops in China and elsewhere? There is Sunbucks Coffee, Buckstar Coffee, and — no jokes — just Sffcccks in China alone. There’s also Stars & Bucks in Palestine, and likely countless others.
But the supreme champ of guffaw-inducing Starbucks knockoffs is, and maybe always will be, Starf****. While it sounds like a t-shirt or sticker you would have picked up at Spencer Gifts at your local mall, Starf**** is a real name used in China to catch the eye of the world-famous coffee chain’s intense followers. However, the plot thickens. There isn’t actually a coffee shop under this buck-wild banner. Years ago, the banner was stuck to a Sichuan shopping mall along with other rip-off retail names (think Adadis for Adidas). Though this Starf**** sign was apparently not the first, and most likely not the last.
However, if you did want a real coffee from a fake Starbucks, you could have visited the petite Star Box Coffee in London. The tongue-in-cheek coffee hut made caffeinated beverages and to-go snacks for passersby under the on-the-nose name. Until Starbucks actually did step in and make the owner remove "Star."
We’re almost hesitant to stick Five Lads on this list. Yes, it’s a fast-casual eatery that sells burgers. Yes, it’s located overseas. Yes, it sounds a lot like Five Guys. But this place isn’t a total rip-off.
According to its website, Five Lads opened in the east end of London in 2015. There are now three locations, but the primary menu item is definitely chicken. Besides, there don’t appear to be any stacked boxes of free peanuts or Coca-Cola freestyle machines. And overall, the dining room seems a lot less bright. However, would an American on vacation take a silly photo under the logo claiming it to be a goofy, Five Guys rip-off? We’re betting yes. We’re guessing yes.
But it’s not like the United States isn’t without its own copycats. Though Five Guys was founded in Arlington, Virginia, you can hop over to Russellville, Arkansas and order a burger from Two Guys. Two Guys Burgers and Fries is a food truck operating in The Natural State with a tight menu of, as the name would suggest, burgers and fries. However, these chaps have refrained from a heavy red color scheme — sticking with plain black and white.
And, just for fun, let’s call attention to Sheak Shack in Iran — another poorly named burger-joint ripoff. Although, much like the two above, it’s apparently somewhat respected by locals.
While 7-Eleven isn’t necessarily a fast-food joint, you can get food there fast. And, if you were in China, you might be going so fast you wouldn’t notice you weren’t in a 7-Eleven at all. China is home to 7-Twelve — a mini-mart with a similar entryway, yes, but not the real deal.
However, there are many 7-Eleven knockoffs in Asia. Other Chinese ones include 9-One, while there is also 7-Days in Vietnam, 7-Bright in Cambodia, 7-Seven in South Korea, and the mysterious (and a must-visit on our list) 7-Eleven Dance Bar in Nepal. There’s also the 7-Mercy in Japan, which might be worse, since 7-11 is actually a Japanese-based company now — though it’s still headquartered in Dallas, Texas.
And this isn’t to put all the copycatting blame on Asia. Let’s not forget the biter 6-Twelve (via HuffPost) debacle in the Boston area. An ex-franchise owner opened a rival corner shop as a stand against food waste. It’s a real "convenience story" — even though other 6-Twelves have existed in North Carolina and New Jersey.