Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|August 19, 2021|5 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

Nando’s won’t be chicken as it is stuffed by Brexit.

Was it not Leonardo Da Vinci who said: “Everything is connected to everything else.”? There is a business built by an African entrepreneur that must rue the words of that short sentence, right now.

Nando’s – the chicken business born in Johannesburg, South Africa – is paying the price of a decision to leave Europe that it had no say in.

Brexit and COVID-19 isolations means that Nando’s is suffering from a shortage of staff and chickens. On top of this, there also a shortage of truck drivers to transport the chickens – the United Kingdom is short of around 100,000 truck drivers. An estimated 20,000 EU truckers left the country when Brexit happened.

Brexit has also seen the departure of many of its people who actually serve the chicken in Nando’s.

It all has meant the closure of more than 40 Nando’s stores of the 400 stores across the United Kingdom. The company has lent some of its staff to work at suppliers in an attempt to get the chickens moving again. For years, the UK Nando’s stores have yielded a solid stream of hard currency for the Johannesburg-based business – as part of a lucrative listed business straddling the world.

You can be sure, as I write this, one of the founders of this business is head-down in South Africa trying to plot a way out of this mess.

South African Robbie Brozin has plenty of experience when it comes to battling adversity in the 34 years since he launched the business with Mozambiquan-born partner Fernando Duarte – who also lent the name of his first-born son to the business.

The two used to call in, on the way home from work, to a Portuguese restaurant called Chickenland in that corner of Johannesburg that will always be Portugal – Rosettenville.

The restaurant was run by an old Portuguese man who used to serve dishes covered in spicy sauce made with birds-eye chili, born in Mozambique, called Peri-Peri. The only problem was, you didn’t know what you were going to get on your plate.

What about a business, Brozin and Duarte thought, where you could buy the same meal whether you were in Johannesburg or London? It is a model that worked for everyone from Macdonald’s to Burger King; the commercialization of the idea that when you are far from home it is comforting to find food you are familiar with. They bought Chickenland for about $40,000.

This saw the birth of Nando’s, in 1987, with family members crowding into the kitchen to do the cooking.

“People said we were mad at the time,” Brozin told me, when I interviewed him in Rosettenville, where the company keeps a large part of its operation, back in 2010.

“South Africa was in crisis and people were leaving the country. We had faith in the country and believed there was no better time to invest.”

A canny advertising campaign – that included cheeky humour and poking fun at politicians – saw Nando’s become a global household name.

The Nando’s crisis has made national news in the United Kingdom and exposed the country’s weakness when it comes to growing its own food. Apparently, the country grows only about half of its own food and used to rely upon the EU for the rest; Brexit means those days are over and the country is going to have to think again.

So will Brozin have to think again about how to get chicken back into his British stores. Be sure Brozin – who is no spring chicken when it comes to business – will find a way to get the UK business crowing again.