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JOHANNESBURG-When Robbie Brozin first sampled Portuguese-style chicken in a tiny corner store in the Johannesburg suburb of Rosettenville, he was smitten.

"I knew nothing about the food business; I just knew that it was the best chicken I had ever tasted," he says.

That love-at-first-taste has turned into a rapidly expanding restaurant chain giving the Colonel a few more grey hairs as Nando's Chickenland expands internationally. Last year saw revenues more than double, up 116% from 1992.

Prepared with peri-peri, a chili-based condiment sauce, made famous by Portuguese colonials in Africa, the chickens are butterfly cut, marinated and grilled for a healthy, low-fat meal.

But it's outrageous advertising more so than health claims that has helped Nando's make its mark.

Mr. Brozin, 34, gave up his job as marketing manager for video recorders, working with his father, the official South African licensee for Sanyo, and bought the downmarket eatery in 1987 just to obtain the chicken recipe. He and immediately dropped all other foods and turned what was a greasy spoon luncheonette into a classier take-out restaurant to highlight the chicken and build the Nando's phenomenon.

With little money for promotion but a desire to make a big impact, "we had to be controversial," Mr. Brozin, the managing director, says.

In fact, the first advertising by McCann-Erickson was so daring in making fun of various cultures using colloquial accents and witty copy for radio spots that the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, banned them.

Despite its limited exposure on other stations, the advertising captured the nation's attention and like other advertising since has made the few rand the company could afford work hard by grabbing publicity.

One unusual placement by Hunt Lascaris TBWA, which replaced McCann last year, was the use of a radio spot on pay-TV station M-Net that ran during the credits after the screening of "Basic Instinct," with copy playing with the words "basting instincts."

During a South African cricket tour of Australia, when a batsman went out for a duck (no score), the term used to describe when a batter is put out without scoring, a super would appear at the bottom of the screen reading "Why go out for a duck when you can go out for a chicken-Nando's."

Nando's prides itself on firsts: the first product ever to be used in a product placement on a local soap opera, "Egoli," and the first company in food retailing to offer a toll-free customer telephone line, which is promoted in advertising and on packaging materials.

The challenge to KFC continues to grow. For example, early this year, Nando's 50 outlets were selling 100,000 chickens a week, compared to the 300,000 a week at KFC's 277 outlets.

Now that sanctions against South Africa have been lifted, Nando's is concentrating on international expansion started only last year but already successful in eight other countries.

Mr. Brozin modestly says that "the greatest success is the passion that our people have for Nando's and the maintenance of that passion." But it is Mr. Brozin himself who inspires that passion with his tireless enthusiasm.

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