At Nando’s, a quarter chicken—the fast-food chain’s signature dish—is served grilled brown, wing outstretched, doused with an opaque orange peri-peri hot sauce. Tshengi is the cashier at the Nando’s in Melville, a suburb of Johannesburg. What do her customers buy? “Quarter chicken, half chicken, chicken platters,” she says—and she’s always busy.
Nando’s started in Johannesburg 26 years ago, and the chain now operates in 25 countries around the world (including Canada), and employs 30,000 employees. It’s beaten back foreign competitors like Chicken Licken and KFC by emphasizing franchisee profitability, adapting the restaurant to each region it is in, and offering a healthier alternative to deep-fried chicken.
Part of Nando’s success in Africa—besides its distinctive hot sauce derived from the peri-peri pepper—is its even spicier ad campaigns. One famous Nando’s commercial depicts Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe wistfully reminiscing about Moammar Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein, longing for the company of his now-dead dictator friends. Another features South African political hot shot Julius Malema as a ventriloquist’s dummy; Malema’s organization called it “cheap satire,” “racist,” and “disgusting.” In other words, it gave Nando’s exactly the kind of publicity it wanted. The advertising antics have endeared the chain to many. “I love them,” says Philip Van Den Berg, a Nando’s customer who normally orders a full chicken and peri-peri potato wedges. “They say things as they are. It’s excellent.”