And what of New York as a location? It’s a question many in the Big Apple have been asking during the years Nando’s has been operating in the US.
That, it seems, remains to be seen. "The challenges are the same anywhere you go, but in Manhattan they are mostly around cost. The real estate is close to double and it’s a union city so the construction costs are doubled too. For the price of one store in New York we can open 10 in another metropolitan area." But don’t count it out completely. "It will probably be in the next phase, in market two, or possibly three or four."
However this path and journey of growth goes it’s one of the aspects that first attracted Heiss to the company.
"There’s been an incredible alignment of values and philosophies on how to run a business. From the start it went fairly quickly. It has been a good fit for me and for the company too, I like to think," he says.
Heiss believes the core of this is the relationship Nando’s has with its customers: "So many companies want to talk about the value they place on the brand rather than the business, but Nando’s actually walks the walk and does what it says. It follows up on what it believes."
In that vein the philanthropic arm of the brand is something else that resonates with Heiss.
At a Unite Against Malaria event in New York in August last year he talked intently with Kingsley Holgate, one of the initiative’s ambassadors. Nando’s has been active in its support, especially in assisting Holgate on his 2010 expedition to deliver malaria nets to 12 African countries.
Heiss believes in the Nando’s approach towards these initiatives: "I don’t know that you can go into a community, expect to benefit from it and not say how we can put back."
He says the company is always looking for different ways to be involved and create lasting change, whether it is aligning with people such as Holgate or helping to promote a South African band playing in Washington DC. "We’re just trying to be part of the community where we can."
The larger community of Americans in general has also responded well to a brand that has its roots in the southern part of Johannesburg. Even if they don’t always know that’s where it comes from or, for that matter, what peri-peri actually is. "It’s a favourite question for South Africans to ask Americans: what do you think of our country?" says Heiss, when I ask him what Americans make of the South African delight.
Article continues on page three...