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Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Robby Enthoven, Nando’s

Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Robby Enthoven, Nando’s

Overall ranking:15 (ranked 26 in 2011)
Restaurateur ranking: 4 (ranked 9 in 2011)

Robby Enthoven – Snapshot

Robby Enthoven is the managing director of Nando’s chicken restaurants in the UK and Northern Ireland, the 267-strong chain based on a Portuguese-Mozambique speciality – flame-grilled chicken spiced with peri-peri. Nando’s, which was founded in South Africa in 1987 by Fernando Duarte and Robert Brozin, has expanded worldwide through franchising. The UK company is owned by the Enthoven family-controlled investment company Capricorn Ventures International. 

Robby Enthoven – Career guide 

Enthoven’s father opened the first UK Nando’s in Ealing Common, west London, in 1992, followed by a second branch in Earl’s Court.

Both were struggling when Robby Enthoven became managing director in 1993. Realising that the take-away format in South Africa was not right for London, Enthoven Jnr brought in a new management team and relaunched the concept in 1995 as a quick-service operation where customers order at the counter and collect their own crockery, but are served at the table. He also introduced a scheme to allow restaurant managers to become partners in the business. The company has expanded rapidly in recent years and now has 267 sites in the UK and Northern Ireland, and a further seven in Ireland.

In September 2010, Capricorn Ventures bought Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) and Real Greek operator Clapham House in a £30m deal. Capricorn said it would provide the “significant investment and time” needed to re-invigorate Clapham House’s brands in the current “difficult” trading environment for restaurants. Nando’s took on 53 GBK restaurants (14 operating internationally) and took the company private. The six-strong Real Greek chain was sold on to former Clapham House Group chairman David Page.

Robby Enthoven – What we think 

When Robby’s father asked him to take over the struggling Ealing and Earl’s Court branches of Nando’s, he expected his son to kill the business within six months but learn something in the process. But neither branch closed, and the self-confessed “bum” turned out to be a bright and astute businessman – although his philosophy is still to have fun while making a profit. 

The group’s impressive expansion won Enthoven the Group Restaurateur of the Year Catey in 2002, when the then 50 restaurants were turning over £50m a year. The judges praised Enthoven’s careful financial management and his ability to combine sound commercial planning with the provision of good-quality value-for-money food in a vibrant and fun environment. Most significantly, Enthoven is credited with breaking new ground by bridging the gap between fast food and traditional restaurants.

Enthoven has also invested heavily in his staff, with 75% of the human resources budget invested in learning and development. The staff tend to be aged under 25 but staff turnover is low. Restaurant managers, or patros (Portuguese for head of the family), control their own marketing budgets and participate in an incentive scheme, while staff (called nandocas) benefit from discounts, free food, staff parties, rewards for good ideas and fun trips abroad for the hardest workers. These initiatives have seen Nando’s pick up a number of awards, including the Sunday Times Best Place to Work (Big Companies) category in 2010.

Nando’s has taken advantage of the cheaper property market and expanded aggressively. There are now 274 Nando’s in the UK and Ireland, with 6,500 staff serving more than 800,000 customers every week. Capricorn Ventures, which has fended off a number of bids for Nando’s in recent years, has declared that the UK can support up to 400 sites. Certainly, the UK’s appetite for the chain shows no signs of waning – a June 2012 report by business intelligence firm Peach Factory found that more people would now choose to eat there than at any other major restaurant or pub brand.

Robby Enthoven’s ranking in the 2011 Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100 >>

Nando’s voted best big company to work for in the Sunday Times list >>

Nando’s owner Capricorn Ventures buys Clapham House Group for £30m >>

Nando’s tops the eating out popularity stakes >>

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