With three new stores having opened recently, it seems Americans love Nando's as much as South Africans do…
Expatriates in New York have become adept at finding places to go to get their favourite South African staples such as Mrs Ball’s Chutney from Madiba Restaurant in Brooklyn or biltong from Braaitime in New Jersey. But when it comes to Nando’s, an extra special effort — one that includes a four-hour car drive (or two-hour express train ride if you’re really hungry) — is required.
The Nando’s restaurants in Washington DC and the neighbouring state of Maryland have seen their fair share of South Africans pass through their doors. They’ve also seen a steady flow of locals. With three new stores opening in the past few months it seems Americans love the flavour as much as South Africans do. And MD Burton Heiss says there’s more to come.
Since Nando’s first opened in South Africa in 1987 it has grown in popularity so much that it now spans more than 900 stores in 24 countries. In 2008 the company decided to branch out into the US, picking Washington DC as its first location because of it being "a strong urban job centre with suburban hubs", says Heiss. It helped that, as an international hotspot, DC provided a base of people who were already familiar with the brand from other countries.
Heiss, a born-and-bred Californian, has been with Nando’s for more than two years after he was head-hunted in 2009. He admits he didn’t know much about the brand before he flew from Los Angeles, where he had been living, to DC to meet the head honchos. "But when I walked into the 18th Street store that day, I immediately loved the brand," he says when we meet at the company’s first US outlet in downtown DC’s Chinatown. "The whole experience of being there was different, quirky, cool, unique."
Americans got their first taste of the brand in its first outlet on 7th Street in Washington DC in July 2008. The success of this opening led to the second opening in April 2009 on 18th Street and two more followed soon after in nearby Maryland. The outlets have been based on the restaurant model used in the UK but, as Heiss explains, they borrow heavily from the African design and decor seen in the South African stores.
In August last year the first of three more branches in Maryland opened — in Gaithersburg’s Washingtonian Centre, followed by Bethesda Row in October and National Harbor in November. Heiss believes these new outlets are a clear affirmation of the company’s commitment to growth in the US.
This growth is in line with the company’s five-year aim of having 25 restaurants in the US by the end of 2015. Heiss says Nando’s wants to capitalise on its strength.
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