Above Photo: Thomson Reuters.
At one McDonald’s in Marseille, France, everyone eats for free. Locals don’t pay a dime — or euro — for food there because the location is now a food bank.
The restaurant originally opened with government backing in 1992 in a majority-Muslim neighborhood grappling with poverty and eventually employed 77 people, according to Vice. One of them was manager Kamel Guemari, who had been working there for more than 20 years since starting as a 16-year-old, according to NPR.
The location was one of six franchises that frequently changed hands. In 2018, its franchiser said he would sell his five other locations to a fellow McDonald’s franchiser. This particular store, however, would be sold on its own and turned into a halal restaurant, NPR reports.
Closing the branch would mean shutting off a major source of employment for the neighborhood. One of the food bank’s organizers told Vice that, with the McDonald’s gone, the only other place for residents to find work was a local hypermarket.
So Guemari took drastic action. In August 2018, he locked himself in the restaurant, drenched himself in gasoline and threatened to light himself on fire, Forbes reports. In the coming weeks, other employees would join him in occupying the McDonald’s to protest its planned closure.
When the pandemic hit, the workers stepped up to feed residents. They dubbed the location “L’Après M,” or “the after M,” to represent the new life it has taken on after serving as a McDonald’s. Farmers, shops and organizations donated food to L’Après M, while locals chipped in cash to fund its operations, according to Vice.
The food bank served at least 100,000 people in its first five weeks of operation, according to Vice.
Earlier this month, Marseille’s government announced it would buy the building, saving it from closure over its illegal occupation, according to The Washington Post. Besides distributing food, the food bank hosts a variety of events today, in line with its community-building mission.