America may not be loved politically by Iran, but Iranians sure do love American food, especially fast food. There are no formal diplomatic relations between the two countries, so it's kind of hard to find a McDonald's or a Pizza Hut, but if you wander the streets of Tehran, you might find a Pizza Hat, or Mash Donald's.

The rise of the fake franchise caught the attention of Iranian-American Holly Dagres who travels to Tehran often. She's published a photo essay highlighting some of these faux franchises. She joins us from her home in Cairo. Thanks so much for being with us.

HOLLY DAGRES: Thanks so much for having me.

SIMON: So give us an idea of the range of restaurants that are being imitated.

DAGRES: Well, I've counted nine so far that look familiar to me. We have Baskin-Robbins, Chipotle, Domino's Pizza, KFC, Mash Donald's, Pizza Hat, Raees Coffee, Subway and Super Star. Now, Raees Coffee's actually a replica of Starbucks and Super Star is actually has the namesake of the popular hamburger ads Hardees, also known as Carl's Jr. in the U.S. So it really was interesting just noticing all these in the past decade just pop out of nowhere.

SIMON: And they've got nothing to do with the American franchises, right?

DAGRES: Not at all. I mean, I think Starbucks actually tried to sue Raees Coffee but there was no success. And the same with KFC. And they've done such a perfect job in some circumstances of emulating things. I mean, Baskin-Robbins and KFC look like the real deal. It's kind of confusing.

SIMON: If we were to go in and order something at Baskin-Robbins, for example, what would be the difference in taste?

DAGRES: Nothing much, honestly. You have the 31 flavors, you've got a pink spoon, you've got the same exact cups, the same exact sign. I mean, the only thing maybe, the quality if ice cream might be better because, in fact, it's Italian gelato.

SIMON: It occurs to us that if diplomatic relations were ever restored, those faux franchises would be in a difficult position, wouldn't they?

DAGRES: Oh, definitely. I mean, there would be lawsuits, they might have to shut down. But I think it would be sad for the owners of those companies because these are just individuals that just came up with a bright idea and thought it would be great to emulate American franchises.

SIMON: So if we were in Tehran today, where might you take me for lunch?

DAGRES: Since you're American, I wouldn't take you to a bootleg franchise. I'd take you for some really good kebab, but if you were really craving something American I would take you to Super Star. And the only reason I say that is because it was my high school hangout and I love their chicken burger.


SIMON: No, all right. Holly Dagres, an Iranian-American Middle East commentator. You can read her photo essay at Holly, as they say in Tehran, bon appetite. Here's looking at you.

DAGRES: Merci. Thanks for having me.


SIMON: This is NPR News.


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