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The Prince of Piri

It wasn’t the pursuit of riches, the drive of ambition or even his love of spicy, flame-grilled chicken that led entrepreneur Louis Germishuys to open his then-Nelspruit-based business, Galito’s, to franchising. Rather, it was the constant pleading from friends and family to share his creation with the world that eventually made him do so — everyone, it seems, wanted in on the piri-piri empire. Today, there are 183 stores in 16 countries from Canada to Kazakhstan, but Galito’s still operates on the principles of a family business. “One of my proudest achievements is that some of the staff members have been on this journey with me for over 25 years,” says Germishuys. “We truly are a family.”

His childhood best friend (and the reason Germishuys fell in love with Portuguese cooking as he spent afternoons in the family kitchen) owned a Galito’s in Maputo and recently opened another store in Benoni. His six-year-old son, Luka, will be the mascot for a new range of kids’ meals that’s currently being developed. His brother-in-law now operates the original Galito’s store in Mbombela. And his father’s gardener, who would help test recipes when Germishuys was still perfecting his marinade in the family garage before opening his first store, is now a trainer in the company.

Pride and Piri-judice

That same recipe Germishuys developed back in the day, before starting the business in 1996, is still the one being used today. The central kitchen, where every sauce and marinade is created from scratch and sent out to Galito’s stores worldwide, is still situated in Mbombela — another fact that Germishuys is proud of, and the one he believes is the secret to the brand’s success. “Your product is everything in a business like this. Every sauce is still made from fresh ingredients using the original recipe and with no artificial add-ins — lemons are still being zested, chillies are still being chopped. I’m absolutely pedantic about providing great food in every store and proud of it.”

So proud, in fact, that he was willing to risk going head-on with his biggest competitor when he opened that first store on Mbombela’s main street … right next door to Nando’s. “People said I was crazy to compete so directly with an established player selling Portuguese chicken. But it was a calculated risk: I decided to go fishing where the fish were. I didn’t have their marketing budget, but I knew I could benefit from it — all I had to do was lure people my way. In the early days, I would actually put the grill outside and let the smell of the marinade coax people over, and I differentiated myself by offering dishes like pap.”

In the land of chicken

Though Germishuys always knew he wanted to work in the food industry and studied hospitality at Wits, he wasn’t quite sure where his career was headed. That was until he discovered Nando’s — or Chickenland, as it was called back in the day. “I was working as a loadmaster for an airline at the time, overseeing the loading and unloading of cargo. I knew I wouldn’t do it for long, but the job allowed me to travel and I loved it. I was living in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, and would often buy flame-grilled chicken from Chickenland on the way home. One day, I saw they had changed the name to Nando’s Chickenland and had started franchising. I immediately knew I wanted to own one.”

He quit his job, moved back to his hometown, Mbombela, and opened his store, with a second one soon after.

It was a huge success, until Nando’s listed and bought out some of the franchisees. “That’s when I decided to do my own thing. I moved my dad’s car out of the garage to perfect my marinades and grilled chicken there and opened that first store within eight months. Looking back, I was a very cocky 20-something! But I was also confident in my creation and willing to work hard.”

He’d opened a total of eight restaurants by mid-2002 and then the franchising efforts took off in earnest. By 2006, Galito’s had started expanding into Africa, launching restaurants in Kenya and Ghana, and went global in 2010 with a store in Toronto, Canada.

Spreading his wings

Today, there are 15 stores in Kenya and more in several other countries, including Abu Dhabi, Kazakhstan, Dubai, India and Malaysia — with plans to open a store in Moscow, Russia within the next year.

Still, international domination is not Germishuys’ vision. “It’s certainly a highlight and something of which I’m very proud. I’m amazed that our small brand from Mpumalanga has managed to do so well in such varied markets. But my vision is to remain accessible to everyone, from businessmen to the guys in overalls off the street.”

That’s why the brand launched its Galipods in 2016: full-service stores built in a container that can be placed anywhere, including rural areas. “We wanted to provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs who couldn’t open a full store, or where there’s no mall to do so. With the Galipods, you can throw down concrete anywhere, put down the container, and you’re in business. There’s also less risk for the franchisees because we can buy back the containers to deploy elsewhere should things not work out.”

The Galipods have the same look and feel as stores, and have an average turnover of R120 000–R170 000 per month, as opposed to stores’ +/-R500 000. Germishuys’ aim is to open 104 more stores in South Africa by 2025, bringing the total to 200 local sites. “It’s ambitious, yes, but we’re well on our way. We’re opening four more in September this year, including in Port Elizabeth — completely new territory for us.”

Still, he emphasises, things won’t change as the company mushrooms in the next few years. “My aim is and always will be great quality Portuguese flame-grilled chicken. I was in Toronto the other day and we were deciding where to go for a business lunch. I picked a Portuguese chicken restaurant and my companion couldn’t believe it. ‘Aren’t you tired of chicken?’ he asked. But I never will be; I can’t pass up the opportunity to try a new place’s chicken. It was good — not as good as ours, of course, but quite good.”

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