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Can Indonesia's "Hamburger King" topple McDonald's?

So far, the signs are not good.

Toni Jack's has not drawn the crowds that its Western counterpart once did, but a company spokeswoman is confident that the business will be a success, particularly among those looking for an alternative to the golden arches. (Sara Schonhardt/GlobalPost)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Would you buy a burger from a one-eyed pirate named Toni Jack? That's the hope of one Indonesian entrepreneur, whose roguish answer to Ronald McDonald also claims his burgers are “better than that one.”

The slogan is Bambang Rachmadi’s attempt to differentiate his new brand from the world’s largest hamburger chain – a company he held majority rights to until McDonald’s sold his stake in March.

Bambang, the self-described hamburger king of Indonesia, claims he was not notified of the sale of his $135 million in assets, which a company spokeswoman described as “personal." He is pursuing legal action against the corporate behemoth.

In the meantime, Bambang has transformed his 13 owner-operated McDonald’s into Toni Jack’s, a step he said was necessary to save the jobs of about 800 employees.

So last month, a McDonald's in central Jakarta disappeared under a black tarp with the Tony Jack’s logo: a pirate whose hat bears a burger crossed by a fork and spoon.

The haste of the changeover is evident by the covering and the shadow of an M on the outside of the building. The restaurant’s new colors – orange, green and black – are in stark contrast to McDonald’s more cheerful red and yellow.

For years Bambang sought to separate his McDonald’s chains from their American association. When anti-U.S. protests broke out over the war in Afghanistan in 2001, the franchise owner instructed restaurant managers to display pictures of him and his wife in full Muslim dress to appeal to religious groups that claimed fast-food chains were a corrupting influence on Indonesia, the world’s most-populous Muslim nation.

McDonald’s first began its Indonesia operations in 1991 with a menu focused on hamburger and french fries. But it also included fried chicken and rice to appeal to local preferences. Rather than special sauce or mayonnaise, meals came with packets of spicy sauce called sambal. The menu also labeled the food as halal, cooked according to Islamic dietary laws.

Toni Jack’s has continued that approach with a menu that — despite the lack of halal labeling — is nearly identical to McDonald’s. But according to company spokeswoman Tetty Hutapea, the taste is "different."

Hamburgers come with egg, black pepper seasoning or BBQ sauce, and most of the value items are devoted to the Chicken Jack, a piece of fried chicken served with a choice of scrambled egg or rice and a soda. The prices are slightly lower than at McDonald’s, with the cheapest item, a Chicken Jack No. 1, selling for Rp15,000 ($1.50).

Visitors to the chain seem uncertain about the switch. On a recent visit, most lunch customers on a recent visit said it was their first taste of Toni Jack’s. Some said they noticed little change from McDonald's usual fare. Others complained of a drop in quality and selection.