George Cohon

George Alan Cohon

(1937-04-19) April 19, 1937 (age 83)
Chicago, Illinois
Known forFounder and senior chairman of McDonald's Canada and McDonald's of Russia
AwardsOrder of Canada
Order of Ontario

George Alan Cohon, CC OOnt (born April 19, 1937) is an American-born Canadian businessman who is the founder and senior chairman of McDonald's Canada and McDonald's of Russia.

Early life and education

Cohon was born to a Ukrainian-Jewish father and an American-Jewish mother in Chicago, Illinois. His father worked as a lawyer and later a baker.[1] He grew up in Chicago sharing a bedroom alongside his older sister Sandy.[2] He received a B.Sc. from Drake University and a Juris Doctor degree from the Northwestern University School of Law.[1] While at Northwestern, he met his future wife Susan.[3]


Cohen at the opening of the 600th McDonald's Canada restaurant at the SkyDome, 1989.
Cohen at the opening of the 600th McDonald's Canada restaurant at the SkyDome, 1989.

Cohon practiced corporate law in Chicago from 1961 through 1967 at his fathers law firm before moving to Toronto, Ontario, as the licensee of McDonald's Corporation for Eastern Canada. He opened his first McDonald's location in London Ontario on November 11, 1968.[2] On the day of the opening, McDonald's founder Ray Kroc offered to buy Cohon's licence for $1 million.[4] He later became chairman, president and chief executive officer of McDonald's Restaurants of Canada. By 1976, Cohon presided over 200 McDonald locations.[5] In 1982, Cohon and 20 corporate sponsors helped save the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, which was sponsored by Eaton's department stores from 1905 to 1981.[6] He grew his McDonald franchise by himself until 1971, when McDonald's bought him out with stock.[7] Cohon eventually became a Canadian citizen in 1975.[6]

In 1988, Cohon was appointed to sit on the board of the Royal Bank of Canada and Director of the Board of Astral Inc and Toronto Sun Publishing Corporation.[8]

He was involved in opening McDonald's in the former Soviet Union with the first restaurant opening in Moscow on January 31, 1990.[7] He was subsequently named Russia's "Capitalist Hero of Labor."[9] The first restaurant was at the time McDonald's biggest, and was opened with minimal involvement from the U.S. parent company, for political reasons. It accepted only Russian rubles, not hard currency, and in the early days, the line to enter the restaurant could be several hours long. Due to Soviet supply shortages, the company created its own supply chain in the Soviet Union, including farms and packaging. At the 1991 G7 Summit in London, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (Cohon's personal friend) personally complained to Mikhail Gorbachev about the difficulties Cohon was experiencing doing business in the Soviet Union.[10]

He is also the founder of Ronald McDonald House Charities, which provides accommodation for families whose children are receiving medical treatment, in Canada and in Russia.[11]

Awards and honours

Cohon at Simon Fraser University in 2011
Cohon at Simon Fraser University in 2011

In 1988, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.[2] In 1998, he was awarded the Order of Friendship by the Russian government.[12]

He was awarded the Order of Ontario in 2000. In 2012, he received a key to the city of Toronto.[13]

In 2019 He was promoted within the Order of Canada to the highest grade of Companion by Governor General Julie Payette. This will give him the Post Nominal Letters "CC" for Life. [14]

Personal life

His son, Mark Cohon, was the 12th commissioner of the Canadian Football League.[13] In 2000, George Cohon was diagnosed with prostate cancer but fully recovered.[4] In 2004, he was rejected from Toronto's Rosedale Golf Club due to his Jewish heritage. After being taken to court, a Judge ruled this was unlawful.[15][16]


  1. ^ a b Olijnyk, Zena (November 20, 2006). "Live and Learn: George Cohon". Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Becker, Ken (January 10, 1991). "Canada's Mac Attack tells his story". Brandon Sun. Manitoba.Free to read
  3. ^ Daubs, Katie (May 18, 2012). "Meet McDonald's Canada founder George Cohon's therapy dogs, Tilly and Simmy". The Toronto Star. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Land, Amanda (November 25, 2005). "The burgermeister of Palm Beach". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  5. ^ "Fast-food chain head ex-lawyer". Lethbridge Herald. Alberta. October 15, 1976.Free to read
  6. ^ a b Caira, Rosanna (December 7, 2015). "George Cohon Has Built a Legacy That Stands the Test of Time". Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  7. ^ a b Culloton, Dan (June 12, 1999). "McDonald's Russian Czar". Arlington Heights Daily Herald Suburban Chicago.Free to read
  8. ^ "The Royal Bank of Canada Appointment". Winnipeg Free Press. June 17, 1988.Free to read
  9. ^ "McDonalds serving 9 up 9 new Russian locations". Arlington Heights Daily Herald Suburban Chicago. February 6, 2000. p. 181.Free to read
  10. ^ Mulroney, Brian (2007-09-10). Memoirs: 1939-1993. Douglas Gibson Books. ISBN 978-0-7710-6536-1.
  11. ^ Kurek, Dominik (May 30, 2017). "George Cohon golf tournament raises funds for Ronald McDonald House". Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  12. ^ "Russia honors Canadian for 'burger diplomacy'". Lethbridge Herald. Alberta. March 14, 1998. p. 46.Free to read
  13. ^ a b "Mayor to give McDonald's charity founder key to the city". June 21, 2012. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Cheney, Peter (March 13, 2004). "Shouts and whispers". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  16. ^ "Newsdesk July 2, 2004". June 2, 2004. Retrieved November 3, 2019.