Nando’s nation: the chicken that conquered Britain
It is where footballers earning £25,000 a week are frequently to be found after training. It is the dining option of choice for actors, home-grown rap singers and superstars such as Rihanna, Britney Spears and Lewis Hamilton. It is the favourite restaurant of teenagers, of all colours and religious persuasion. It is particularly popular with young black Britons… the ambulance, police and fire services and NHS workers like it because they get a 20 per cent discount. It is the guilty pleasure for people who would shudder to be seen in McDonald’s or – heaven forbid – KFC… In short, Nando’s seems to be Britain’s favourite restaurant. How did that happen?
The home of ‘the legendary Portuguese flame-grilled peri-peri chicken’, as Nando’s describes it, is actually South Africa – more specifically the Johannesburg suburb of Rossetenville, a mining town with a large population of migrant workers from Mozambique. It was there in 1987 that an entrepreneur named Robert Brozin was taken one day by his friend, an audio engineer and Portuguese émigré named Fernando Duarte, to a Portuguese takeaway restaurant named Chickenland.
Impressed by the chicken, Brozin and Duarte bought the restaurant for about 80,000 Rand (then worth about £25,000), truncating Duarte’s first name and calling it Nando’s. Within two years Nando’s had three outlets in Johannesburg and one in Portugal. It now has close to 1,000 in 30 countries around the world.
The British operation is owned by Yellowwoods, formerly Capricorn Ventures International, a private equity company that is owned by a South African family, the Enthovens, who made their fortune in insurance, and were early investors in Nando’s in South Africa.
The first two British branches opened in 1992, in Ealing and Earl’s Court, west London, serving primarily takeaway food. The business struggled and was on the verge of collapse when the chairman, Richard Enthoven, handed it over to his son Robert – habitually described in business stories as ‘a self-confessed bum’ – who shifted the emphasis from takeaways to what is known as a ‘mixed service’ model, whereby customers are allocated a table and then order at a counter and collect their own cutlery before the food is brought to the table by servers.
Enthoven also hit on the idea of individualising the design and decor of each outlet, thereby avoiding the uniformly bland feeling of a chain. It has proved a highly successful formula. By 2001 there were 29 branches in the UK. By 2005 the number had risen to 114. In 2012 Nando’s registered a profit of £14.7 million – up from a loss of £7 million in 2010-11, generated on sales of £419.5 million – a 26 per cent increase over the year.
The ‘fast casual’ restaurant, of which Nando’s is perhaps the leading example, is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the food industry. It tends to be characterised by ‘short’ menus and the offer of more healthy food, which you can often see being freshly prepared on the premises. (Nando’s chickens are neither organic nor free range, but come under the Red Tractor Assurance mark; they are farmed in Britain and delivered fresh, not frozen, to restaurants.)
The ‘fast casual’ restaurant is a step up from fast food, but cheaper, faster and more convenient than a ‘full service’ restaurant. Others of the type include Vapiano (a German-owned chain selling pizza and pasta, which you can watch being cooked at the counter) and Gourmet Burger Kitchen (also owned by Yellowwoods and following the same order-at-the-counter system).
A recent survey by the market research company NPD shows that restaurants in the ‘fast casual sector’ have an average ‘revisit intent’ (definitely or will probably go again) of 69 per cent. Nando’s has a ‘revisit intent’ of 80 per cent.
For a high-street chicken chain, Nando’s is a curiously secretive organisation. There is no telephone number for its head office on its website. My requests to interview Robert Enthoven and the company’s founders were turned down. Any questions, I was told, would be answered by email.
It took a week, and a brisk exchange of emails, before I was able to reach the company’s UK marketing director, Kerry Perkins, on the telephone. ‘We like our restaurants to do the talking,’ she explained.
Nando’s employs about 8,000 people in the UK, most of whom are under 25, and has a reputation as a good employer. Store managers, known as Patraos (Portuguese for ‘head of the family’), are encouraged to take the initiative in running their branch. And in an industry that traditionally has high levels of turnover, staff or ‘Nandocas’ (a term invented by Brozin), are rewarded with free food, outings abroad and good promotion prospects.
Nando’s rose on a tide of corporate and motivational jargon that seems to owe more to a ‘life coaching’ course than a chicken restaurant. The early South African operation was built on what was known as the Nando’s Covenant, a three-page document describing itself as ‘the binding promise that is made by all Nandocas to uphold and protect the beliefs and procedures that have made Nando’s what it is, and will determine what we can become’.
‘Only by being true to the Nando’s Covenant,’ it goes on, ‘can we create the magic that is the Nando’s Way.’
The company declined to comment on whether the Nando’s Covenant is still applied in Britain, but confirmed that ‘the values of pride, passion, courage, integrity and family’ enshrined within ‘are still core to the business within the UK’…..
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