Jacaranda and Wings: Part 1
April 18, 2012 10:17am
Outside of East Africa's first KFC
I read about it before I actually saw it: the first East African outpost of an American fast food chain, a KFC in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Media reports said that a throng of Kenyans had lined up to get in on opening day, filing past the yellow external facade and a huge plastic image of Colonel Sanders’ goateed face, red apron, and Southern U.S. string tie. Many had eaten at KFC or other U.S. fast food outlets while traveling or living outside Kenya, like one of KFC’s first customers in Nairobi, Zahir Lalji. “We’re really happy it’s here,” he told the Associated Press. “We’re hoping McDonald’s will come in too.”
Not everyone in Nairobi felt that way. This first KFC (there’s now another one) is located in a popular shopping center, Nakumatt Junction, along with a Nakumatt supermarket, clothing and electronics stores, a health food shop, and a branch of Java House, a Kenyan chain coffee bar and cafe that, somewhat improbably, always stocks soy milk.
“I was amazed one day as we were driving into Junction. On the outside was a big KFC sign with the bucket,” a colleague wrote when I asked her about the KFC. “It looked really misplaced. It was bad enough to have the South African fried chicken bunch [Nando’s] in Kenya, but now this…you can only project our quality of life index! Sedentary and KFC!” KFC in Kenya also has South African roots: it’s the brainchild of a South African entrepreneur, who bought the franchise license and trained many of the Nairobi KFC managers in South Africa.
A few months after the opening, I too, got to gawk at the jarring sight of Nairobi’s first KFC, or at least the exterior, since I was at Nakumatt Junction early in the day, before KFC had opened. The only activity I saw was a KFC employee wiping down the large, street-facing windows. The promotion staff must also be busy: this KFC has its own Facebook page, with over 2,500 “likes.”
“KFC?” Jau, a Nairobi taxi driver I know, parried when I asked him what he thought about the fast food chain’s being in Nairobi as we drove past the second KFC (at least two more are set to open this year), also in an upscale mall. “It’s expensive, you know,” he added. Did he want to go? “Not really,” he replied. “I can get a better-tasting chicken for less money elsewhere.” Another taxi driver, less prosperous than Jau, was more intrigued. “If I get the money…” he told me.
Photo courtesy of Mia MacDonald