Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 33° Partly Cloudy
News >  Business

KFC, Africa Fried Chicken peck it out in Senegal

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 8, 2019

Tables and chairs have been placed outside for the crowds that have frequented the new KFC in Dakar, Senegal. (Yagazie Emezi / For The Washington Post)
Tables and chairs have been placed outside for the crowds that have frequented the new KFC in Dakar, Senegal. (Yagazie Emezi / For The Washington Post)
By Danielle Paquette The Washington Post

DAKAR, Senegal – The Senegalese phone salesman didn’t expect “finger lickin’ good” to be so literal. But the grease! He needed three, four, five napkins. And the American portion size left his jaw aching.

“Eating KFC exhausts me,” Momar Lissa Ndiaye said.

He’d wondered why people were lining up around the block to try the West African nation’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken. Television stars, high-heeled models and the president’s son attended the grand opening in early October. Fireworks crackled above. Suddenly everyone was taking selfies at the two-story eatery with a giant bucket in the sky.

Ndiaye, 42, preferred the competition: Africa Fried Chicken. He spent his next lunch break at the older restaurant on the other side of town – one with a strikingly similar logo and color scheme.

“I’ll drive longer to eat at Africa Fried Chicken,” he said, ordering wings at the red-and-white counter.

As Popeyes and Chick-fil-A duke it out for sandwich supremacy in the United States, a new era of fried chicken has dawned across the Atlantic in rapidly developing Dakar, setting the stage for another kind of fast-food feud.

In one corner stands the shiny newcomer to this part of the continent, an empire with 21,000 stores worldwide. In the other: a Senegal-spun kitchen that was clearly inspired by it.

Some accuse AFC of copying KFC down to the last breading crumb. Others point out that KFC arrived second and suggest it should cater more to local tastes – maybe even change its name here.

Both stores boast secret recipes and oceanfront views in the Senegalese capital, which is home to 3 million potential customers. Both are vying for poultry dominance in one of Africa’s fastest-growing markets. Both spark plenty of conversation online.

“They’re about to (put) the Senegalese (knockoffs) out of business!” one customer wrote on KFC’s Google reviews.

“Best chicken spot in town,” another user wrote on AFC’s page.

The high-calorie commercial war heats up as more restaurateurs seek to enter or expand in a region with an exploding middle class and the youngest population on Earth. Analysts say the potential – and the appetites – are bottomless.

Success, however, isn’t guaranteed in a city where people can buy a hot plate of chicken and rice on the street for less than $3 – or ask a fisherman on the beach to catch them a snapper and grill it on the spot. Companies must stand out to lure customers away from cheaper traditional fare.

When Ndiaye, the phone seller, visited KFC on a recent Monday, it was practically gleaming. A banner made for Instagram greeted guests. So did a crowd-control rope that looked like it belonged in an airport.

He waited 30 minutes to place his order, full of anticipation. The food let him down.

“I like smaller sizes,” he said. “They’re less fatty, and they still fill you up.”

Other customers fell in Kentucky Fried love.

Mohamed Massamda, a college engineering student, took one bite of his chicken burger and was glad he saved his high school graduation money for that moment.

“I don’t have the words,” the 18-year-old said, gazing at the slick wrapper. “It’s just an incredible feeling. So crispy.”

Khadija Gueye, 17, came for the taste she found on vacation in Morocco.

“The flavors other places advertise here,” the high schooler said, “I can make that at home.”

KFC Senegal has sold an average of 1,000 meals per day for the last three weeks, said Cheikh Hamidou Fall, the franchise’s marketing chief.

It was built to accommodate 800 orders, so wait times have stretched. A guard stands at the door, telling customers to remain patient outside when the dining room is too crammed.

That’s a testament to the brand’s allure, Fall said.

“There are some rip-offs in town,” he said. “They tried to adopt the KFC identity – like the bucket and the red colors – but it’s not working.”

Besides, he said, KFC Senegal’s chief executive, Anta Babacar Ngom Diack, descends from chicken royalty. Her family owns one of the region’s biggest chicken companies, with a plant that processes 4,000 birds per hour.

At the opening ceremony, she sported a bright red blazer – a feminine twist on the founder’s classic look.

“When I was a kid,” she said, “my parents would come back from Paris with buckets of KFC in their suitcases.”

Diack, 35, worked her way up at her father’s business but began yearning for her own project about six years ago.

That’s when she started emailing KFC every month: Can we open a franchise here?

“I was persistent,” she said.

When the middle class exploded and the market was ready and the dream finally manifested, she pledged to hire an all-woman staff. Now the receipts say: KFC First Ladies.

People called her sexist, Diack said, but she wanted to boost an underappreciated workforce. The goal for her next store, she said, is to give job opportunities to people with disabilities.

Across town, a polished red staircase welcomes guests to Africa Fried Chicken, which opened in 2016 and has its own jumbo bucket sign.

The AFC letters look awfully like KFC’s, but the storefront touts a purely Senegalese option - dibiterie le walo, or grilled sheep.

Diners who slide into AFC’s red leather booths can feel the ocean breeze. The windows stay open. Fans are blowing. There’s a photo on the wall of Moammar Gadhafi.

The menu features buckets of chicken with barbecue sauce, mayo and a blend of local spices. Waiters serve juice cocktails named after African musicians, including Youssou N’Dour, whom Rolling Stone once dubbed “the most famous singer alive” in Senegal.

His son owns the place.

Birane Ndour, 38, initially wanted to open a KFC.

When he studied business in Paris, fast food was his study fuel. He sensed his friends back home would love it, too.

The American chain, however, rebuffed his outreach.

“I won’t go into the details,” he said, “but the response was not favorable.”

So, Ndour vowed to launch a better version – a Senegalese version. He asked a neighborhood mom “who cooks for everyone,” he said, to draft the menu. (He won’t share the recipe.)

Now he wants to shred his original design. Completely renovate AFC. Sleek beige will replace the red and white. Maybe customers can enjoy a hookah on the new second floor.

He plans to change the logo and open more stores across the city. Locations in the suburbs will feature lower prices, he said, because income tends to be lower there.

Then he can compete with the chicken giant.

“I believe in my people,” Ndour said. “I believe in Africa. I believe in the taste.”

As for what’s next?

“I’d like to take it into the United States.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.

Annual health and dental insurance enrollment period open now

 (Courtesy Washington Healthplanfinder)

2020 has been a stressful year for myriad reasons.