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Rome's first McDonald's opens near Spanish Steps

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ROME, Italy -- Rome's first McDonald's restaurant -- the world's largest -- opened Thursday near the Spanish Steps in the city's most elegant shopping district, serving hamburgers, mozzarella cheese and tuna and beans on marble table tops.

A crowd of about 500 people was waiting outside the restaurant when the bulletproof doors swung upon for the first time. The restaurant, whose opening was delayed a week by zoning disputes, was packed from the start with curious Italians and several American tourists.

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McDonald's, which opened on the site of an old Roman bar and restaurant called Rugantino in Rome's most elegant shopping district, is the eighth fast-food restaurant in a city where the two-hour lunch used to hold sway.

The 450-seat Rome outlet is the largest of McDonald's 9,000 restaurants.

'I felt a challenge and a responsibility when I decided to open here,' said owner Jacques Bahbout, who plans to open a second McDonald's in Rome within a year. 'I wanted to bring the two different cultures together and make the restaurant palatable in more ways than one. I think we were successful.'

The table tops are marble and there is a piano bar serving beer. Along with McDonald's traditional hamburgers, there is a salad bar serving Italian specialities like fresh mozzarella cheese and Tuscan tuna and beans. But neither pasta nor pizza is on the menu.

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The restaurant opened to mixed reviews from the American tourists.

Lauren Buchanan, 24, of Avalon, N.J., said she liked the addition of mozzarella to the menu but thought a McDonald's in Rome 'corrupts the Italian culture.'

Nick Safina, 21, of Boston, predicted it 'will be a summer hangout and the piano bar will attract all sorts of people.'

Rohit Misra, 20, of Queens, N.Y., complained that 'the shakes are smaller than in the U.S.,' but Steve Lamothe, 21, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said he prefers the Italian McDonald's 'because they serve beer.'

'It's like being at home,' Bob Storelli, 21, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

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