That the world's appetite for spicy chicken is growing is evident from the fact that South African casual dining chain Nando's is readying to open its 1,000th outlet within the next few months, just shy of its 25th anniversary in 2012.

And while recently appointed Group CEO David Niven isn't saying where that landmark outlet will be, regional contenders include Abu Dhabi and Oman. New outlets are pencilled in on the brand's map in both places.

"The first Nando's restaurant should be launched in Abu Dhabi towards the end of this year, or early 2012," Niven tells GN Focus in an exclusive interview. "Possible suitable locations include the Central Market and the Reem Island. We are also exploring possible exciting city centre destinations that offer high visibility and a concentrated footfall."

Middle East plans

Along with a new Muscat City Centre branch, which opens over the summer, the Abu Dhabi restaurant will be one of several new stores propelling the brand past the 1,000-store mark.

"We are keen to expand aggressively in the Middle East because we have ambitious partners across the region and our brand is a natural here. The region shares our love of chicken and spices. It is a regular Peri-Peri chicken hot spot," exclaims Niven.

Nando's currently operates in five regional markets, including Lebanon, Qatar and Bahrain and eventually wants shops across the Middle East. In the UAE alone, it hopes to double its eight stores over the next three years, adds Dinesh Acharya, Chief Operating Officer of Nando's UAE. "Business development in the UAE will be seen as a key objective for the next few years keeping in mind the Nando's credo — if you can dream it, you can do it," he says.

A great "local gone global" South African success story, Nando's now operates in 31 countries worldwide, largely through franchise operations. It has a strong presences in the UK, Africa and Australasia, with more than 200 outlets in each of those markets. Yet, it has only 34 restaurants across North America and 11 on the Indian subcontinent with no presence in Europe, China or Latin America.

While it has announced plans to grow its two restaurants in India to 50, Niven indicates that new opportunities lie in the US and in China, which Niven describes as a "potentially lucrative" market.

Global platform

As CEO, his mandate is now to create a truly global platform for the brand. "Our vision is to be the employer of choice throughout the world," he says.

Since he was appointed last year, much of his time has been spent visiting markets around the world, meeting local teams and listening to their expectations. "We're targeting strong growth at a global level and to achieve this, we are taking a fresh look at the way we work and how we can achieve more together. It is not about making significant changes but more about harnessing and co-ordinating the existing strengths and skills throughout the group globally," he explains.

But they're not going to tamper with what is clearly a recipe for success. There are no plans to vary the menu drastically for the moment, Niven says, and flame-grilled Peri-Peri chicken will remain firmly at the centre of the Nando's offering. As for introducing new variations such as organic chicken, that's far away for now.

"We are aware of the squeeze on the economy and consumers' resistance to price increases. Organic products come at a premium price and are also in tight supply but we are watching both the supply chain and the pricing structure for the future," he says.

While that may dismay some, on one front, at least, fans will be pleased there are no changes ahead — the brand's sassy approach advertising isn't being ditched any time soon. "Nando's advertising is not about being controversial," insists Niven. "It is irreverent, cheeky, unpredictable and brave. We build advertising stories around everyday happenings and whilst Nando's advertising has always been a reflection of where a country's at, it remains an escape from formality." Which perhaps explains why the brand might put out a commercial featuring a pole-dancing stripper mum — a piece that delighted internet viewers while becoming the most-complained-about advertisement of the decade in Australia, where it was released. There's always an appetite for irreverence. 

BIO: At the helm

David Niven was promoted to CEO last year after a stint heading Nando's UK and US businesses. He is responsible for leading both the restaurant and grocery businesses worldwide.

Niven is no stranger to the restaurant and retail world, having worked for over 30 years for major British retail companies such as House of Fraser, Asda and Arcadia.

The Middle East is particularly close to his heart. Having lived in Kuwait for several years, he travelled extensively across the Gulf and Levant in a previous avatar as COO for M.H. Alshaya's Retail Division. He returned to the UK in 2004, and after an inspiring meeting with the founder of Nando's UK, Robby Enthoven, he joined Nando's as Managing Director of UK operations.

He lives with his wife in Warwickshire and London and has a passion for cars and country music.