Chicken is without a doubt one of the most bankable beauties in the take-out galaxy.
Apparently South Africans consume more than a billion birds a year and you only have to see the multitude of fowl fast food outlets to appreciate the gig has wings.
Though, this isn’t the main reason the proprietors of Afro’s got into the chicken business. Afro’s Chicken is a homegrown Durban brand and a relative newcomer to the busy market. Emil Venter started the business because, after a career in restaurants, he found things had got a little too fussy.
In the course of his working life, Venter has done the circuit and graced kitchens at restaurants of the caliber of La Buca Di Bacco. He worked overseas for 15 years and returned to set up Stretta in Hillcrest.
He reveled in the tastes, but craved a simplicity he couldn’t find.
So he ended up creating it himself, though it was done over time and had humble origins in a mobile food trailer.
In September 2012, he manufactured a food trailer that did the flea market circus. It was a roaring success and a relatively cheap way of testing his chicken offering in the market.
Friend and designer Kevin Boyd, helped develop the Afro’s brand. Influenced by a photographer friend who took animated pictures of life in Umlazi, they came up with the bright yellow Afro’s design and its iconic photo of a child beaming at the lens (apparently delighted by the taste of chicken or life, or both).
The tender came up for one of the eThekwini beachfront sites and Venter landed it. He secured the Addington site that still houses the original Afro’s, a take-out in a remodeled shipping container painted bright yellow.
Venter roped in former Stretta chef Matthew Hancock to run the shop. The bearded hipster cum surfer was an instant hit with patrons and soon secured a wide following among beachgoers.
Other attractions, of course, were the killer chicken strips with tjips or coleslaw, delicious bacon and egg rolls, great coffee and the promenade ambiance.
That was in 2014 and the enterprise involved a handful of staff and about 200kg of chicken and potatoes a week.
When he saw things were roaring, Venter approached Mike Harris, a chartered accountant turned property developer who invested and got involved in the business. In January 2016, Afro’s had four stores, at the beachfront, in Churchill Road off Umgeni Road, in Umhlanga Ridge and in New Germany. They get through two tons of chicken a month and a ton of potatoes. And they do corporate catering for the likes of Mr Price, serving up to 400 meals at a time.
Afro’s has a staff of about 50 people and Harris says they are inundated with franchise enquiries, which they’re turning down. “We need to grow this ourselves to see what works and what doesn’t. We are efficient because we work smart and we can move around quickly. It is good, organic growth. We are on top of it because we are in the stores everyday and we eat the chicken everyday,” Harris says.
Venter says simplicity is the key. “The menu is simple. We have about four items on the menu and the most expensive is R39. We’re priced slightly below Nandos, but our offering is tasty. Office workers, lawyers and businessmen want a decent meal at a good price. Our décor is simple and edgy. We appeal to the everyman and woman, but the hip crowd seem to like us, too.”
He believes an unpretentious menu and an uncluttered approach to business helped them succeed.
“A menu with reduced choice helps you process orders faster, it reduces stock holdings and general risk. Things work easier and the standard of food is consistent.”
Harris reckons the global trend is towards fast, casual dining. “People don’t want a long wait or a fancy deal with waitrons. They want good taste, good value and convenience.”