When it comes to PERi-PERi, flame-grilled chicken, no-one does it better than Nando’s. Hailing from South Africa, the award-winning casual dining chain is known worldwide, with more than 1,000 restaurants spanning 24 countries. The Malaysian and Singaporean stores are led by Chung Lynn Mac, Group CEO of Nando’s Malaysia and Singapore. Born in Malaysia and schooled in England, Chung Lynn studied architecture at the University of Wales campus in London, where Nando’s became a staple in her weekly restaurant rotation. “I remember sitting with the owner of Nando’s talking about how he got started in the business throughout the entire lunch. I knew nothing about chicken or the restaurant business, but he made it seem like anyone could do it – just go ahead and start a restaurant,” she explains.
Ready to face the world
Chung Lynn recalls a visit from her father when the pair had lunch at Nando’s. He loved the classic hot PERi-PERi sauce so much, he asked to speak with the manager. A few months later, her father proposed Chung Lynn return to Malaysia to run the local branch in Bangsar. It was 1998 and neither Chung Lynn, an architect with only two years’ work experience under her belt, nor her father had any experience in the food business. As crazy as it may seem, Chung Lynn accepted the challenge. As a 24-year-old female in a top executive position, Chung Lynn knew she would face massive problems entering Malaysia’s male-dominated business world.
However, from that very first store in Bangsar, the Nando’s craze spread through word-of-mouth, as well as an appreciation for perfectly spiced flame-grilled chicken and customer service with a family touch. The eateries quickly changed from quick service restaurants into full-blown dining outlets with table service, improving their offering to cater to increased customer demand. “Today, we have 75 restaurants in Malaysia and a further 11 in Singapore. Nando’s has always believed in building strong relationships through good marketing, advertising and word-of-mouth. What I feel helps Nando’s growth is also the strength of our culture and sense of community,” says Chung Lynn.
The purpose-driven company
The CEO aims to inspire her staff with an adventurous spirit and the values of pride, passion, courage, integrity and family. “As in all families, some are quiet, some are the life of the party, and others are somewhere in between,” she says. “Here at Nando’s, we love that everyone is different and welcome at our table. And we do mean everyone.”
In Singapore, Nando’s has partnered with the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises on its Yellow Ribbon initiative, which gives equal opportunity to ex-offenders. “We’ve been part of this initiative since 2013 and have employed more than 200 ex-offenders, some of whom have been retained as full-time or part-time crew. Being purpose-driven goes beyond work culture and employability – we want to make a real difference in people’s lives,” explains Chung Lynn. “There’s a saying we live by, ‘Nando’s is not just about the chicken.
It’s never been just about the chicken. It’s about the people who make the chicken.’ Our impact goes far beyond our restaurants and extends to our customers, business partners and the communities we operate in. The positive benefits can be seen in programs like YOUthReka, Nando’s Art Initiative in Malaysia for artistic youth.”
“Being purpose-driven goes beyond working culture and employability – we want to make a real difference in people’s lives.”
Chung Lynn has watched Malaysia’s narrow food retail industry transform into a large market brimming with independent casual dining venues, hipster cafes, coffee shops and fine dining restaurants. “Another trend we’re seeing is that Malaysians are becoming pickier and more health-conscious. They pay attention to the ingredients used in their food and the way it’s cooked,” she explains. “Malaysia has long been known as a country that takes pride in its food, and so we pay extra attention to quality, flavour and price. These changes are keeping the industry on its toes.”
Nando’s Master Griller Challenge
To bring the best out in its people and celebrate commitment and excellence, each year Nando’s hold its international Master Griller Challenge. Grillers from Nando’s restaurants worldwide come together to put their skills to the test and demonstrate what it means to be the best at their job, vying for the prestigious ‘Master Griller’ title.
Looking ahead, Chung Lynn is geared towards further expansion. “Nando’s Malaysia and Singapore are growing together with the global brand, so it’s an exciting time for us. In the next five years, we aim to have 100 restaurants in Malaysia and 2,000 staff. We’ll never be the biggest but we’ll always aspire to be better and different from competitors.
We don’t want to just be the most-loved dining brand in Malaysia and Singapore, we also want to be known as a company with a purpose.”