(Bloomberg) — It’s lunchtime in Cape Town, and a stream of customers are lining up at the Nando’s restaurant on Long Street. A cashier, Zimktha Loza, tries to take phone orders over the din of Portuguese-inspired music.
“I have regular customers every day,” Loza said. “I hear their voice and know what they are going to order.”
Long lines at Nando’s, which opened its first eatery in South Africa in the late 1980s, are a common sight at outlets far away from Cape Town. The fast-growing spicy-chicken chain has 1,100 locations in 22 countries, helping make its original backer, Dick Enthoven, a billionaire.
The son of an insurance magnate, Enthoven kick-started the business by giving two entrepreneurs, Robbie Brozin and Fernando “Nando” Duarte, a loan to expand their chain of chicken restaurants in the early 1990s. Today, he owns more than 320 Nando’s outlets in the U.K.
The business accounts for half of his $1.1 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The rest of his net worth derives from Hollard Insurance Company Ltd., South Africa’s largest closely held insurer. He’s never appeared on an international wealth ranking.
“At its heart Nando’s is a private family business,” said a Nando’s U.K. spokeswoman who asked not to be identified, citing company policy. “The principal backers in Nando’s, shortly after its founding, are the Enthoven family who have provided private capital and significant business know-how to grow the business in South Africa and globally.”
She declined to comment on Enthoven’s net worth.
Nando’s Afro-Portuguese-themed, quick-service restaurants are known for their signature peri-peri chili marinated chicken. A half bird sells for seven pounds ($10.27) in London and 57.90 rand ($4.70) in Cape Town.
“Nando’s has done really well because the whole concept is based around a very simple product which everyone understands,” said Peter Backman, managing director at Horizons, a London- based food service consultancy. “They deliver this product imaginatively, with great fun and at a very good price.”
The company’s playful marketing ploys, such as a “finger selfie” campaign where people share pictures of their digits in creative situations, play especially well with youthful customers, said Backman. On Twitter, Nando’s is the most popular restaurant in the U.K., according to a study by Southampton- based consultancy eDigitalResearch, with twice as many followers as second-ranked Domino’s Pizza Inc.
The fervor of Nando’s loyalists has spawned a fan website, RateYourNandos.com, featuring reviews and statistics, such as the most populous U.K. city without a Nando’s (Stoke-on-Trent) and the first Nando’s to see the new day (a location in Suva City, Fiji). Celebrity devotees include singer Harry Styles from the band One Direction and rapper Wiz Khalifa.
The company’s parent, Nando’s Group Holdings Ltd., had revenue of 535 million pounds ($802 million) in the year ending Feb. 23, 2014. Enthoven, whose age couldn’t be confirmed, shares ownership of Nando’s international businesses, a mix of company- owned and franchised restaurants, with Duarte and Brozin, according to Nando’s spokeswoman.
The origin of the Enthoven family fortune dates back to the 1950s, when Enthoven’s father, Robert, an insurance broker and Dutch immigrant, identified the need for corporate insurance services in South Africa. Today, Johannesburg-based Hollard Insurance sells life and short-term policies on four continents. It had a book value of 5.99 billion rand ($563.1 million) as of June 2014.
Dick Enthoven’s Oxford-educated son Adrian serves as chairman of Hollard while another son, Robby, is head of Nando’s U.K. Robby was tapped to run Nando’s in 1993, when the company had just two branches in west London, according to a 2011 profile in The Caterer magazine. He tweaked the format, switching from the South African takeout model to a combination of counter and table service.
The company opened its first U.K. location outside of London in 2000. By 2013, there were 300 Nando’s throughout the U.K. Part of the chain’s success, said Horizons’ Backman, is location. It’s hard to find a bustling street or shopping center anywhere in the country that doesn’t have a Nando’s.
“They’ve become the anchor site for new developments,” he said. “Nando’s is the must-have brand to be in there.”
While Dick Enthoven isn’t involved in Nando’s daily management, his influence is reflected in the restaurants’ decor. An art collector, he’s wallpapered the head office of Hollard with works by African artists and hired a curator to build a collection for Nando’s.
Altogether, the U.K. restaurants showcase 5,000 pieces of South African art, according to the company’s website, a collection ten times bigger than the one at the Tate Britain museum.
“I never buy anything with the view of selling it or to invest in it,” Enthoven said in a 2010 interview with Johannesburg-based newspaper Business Day. “I buy it because I enjoy it, because it is important to have it.”
The billionaire also helped assemble the art collection on display at Spier, his Stellenbosch wine estate. One of South Africa’s oldest wine farms, the property also has a hotel, conference center, restaurants and biodynamic farm.
Wines from the 300-year-old vineyards appear on Nando’s U.K. menu. They include a chenin-sauvignon blanc blend and merlot, both of which are said to “partner spicy foods perfectly.”