In Stubbies, Bata Bullet sneakers, velour and thick moustaches, they queued out the door. Holden Toranas, Datsun 180Bs, Ford Cortinas and Mitsubishi Sigmas snaked through the new-fangled drive-thru and down the street.

US fast-food chain McDonald's had finally come to Christchurch.

And it was the most anticipated event of the year. As big as the inaugural Rugby World Cup, it was also a welcome distraction from the stock-market crash of Black Tuesday.

The world-famous Golden Arches were already well known in New Zealand. The first restaurant had opened in Porirua in 1976.

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But it wasn't until November 3, 1987 that Cantabrians got their first chance to tuck in to a Big Mac or McFeast and wash it down with a fizzy lemony Leed or triple thickshake.

Restaurants opened on the same day at Linwood and Merivale, across the city from one another, serving different socio-economic neighbourhoods.

The chaos of opening day lingers vividly in the memory of Linwood McDonald's franchisee Bruce Davis.

"There were hundreds of people lining up to get in on opening morning - and the lines never went away. There was a sea of faces from opening to closing, and for many days after that," Davis recalls.

News of the southern french fries revolution soon spread.

Mainlanders were soon travelling huge distances from the West Coast, Nelson, Dunedin and further south to try McDonald's for the first time.

"The stories of the adventures and efforts that people made were extraordinary, and inspiring," said Davis, who still runs the Linwood franchise, along with four others in the city.

Alan Traill moved his family from Whangarei, where he opened, owned, and operated his first McDonald's restaurant six years earlier, to open Merivale in 1987.

It was an economically uncertain time after the '87 crash, he remembers, and interest rates were above 20 per cent.

"But our belief in McDonald's and in Christchurch made us confident that it was worth taking the huge risk," Traill says.

Both restaurants came close to breaking international records for turnover on their opening days.

The menus have changed considerably over the last 30 years.

A placemat from the era shows a limited range of just six burgers - hamburger, cheeseburger, McFeast, Big Mac, Quarter Pounder with cheese, and Fillet O'Fish - as well as Chicken McNuggets, french fries, hot apricot or apple pies, sundaes, thick shakes, soft cones, orange juice, tea and coffee.

Traill has welcomed the support his business has received by Cantabs over the past 30 years.

"It always amuses me when our brand is portrayed as a 'global corporate'; it couldn't be further from the truth. The franchisees all have a deep, personal connection to the area and the region is as strong today as it was 30 years ago," he said.

There are 17 McDonald's in the Christchurch and Canterbury area today, and 165 restaurants across New Zealand employ more than 9000 people.