In a country with hundreds of fried-chicken chains, NeNe is both one of the most popular and successful, with over a thousand outlets in South Korea alone.
To understand just how well-loved NeNe Chicken is among Koreans, you need only look at its two Australian openings. When it launched in Melbourne a couple years ago, the restaurant was so busy staff could barely cope. It was almost as ridiculous at Macquarie Centre when a second restaurant launched late last year.
NeNe means “Yes! Yes!” in Korean, and fans of the almost two-decade-old fried-chicken chain might shout those words too when they hear the recipes used in Australia for NeNe’s crisp-battered, often saucy fried chicken are unchanged from those used in the its mother country. “We're lucky enough to have a large Korean population here and I'm sure many will be coming in wanting their NeNe Chicken to taste like it does in Korea. The key challenge for us is to keep it authentic,” says NeNe Chicken’s Australian general manager Richard Godwin.
That means the marinades, batter-mix and sauces are all sourced from Korea, and they offer the classic Korean flavours: Freaking Hot, Snowing Cheese (there’s powdered cheese in the batter), Garlic and Bulgogi. The only difference is a few extra menu items to appease the local crowd who’ve never tried NeNe, or Korean fried chicken at all. “With any business model you need to adapt to the local environment. We've added things like combo meals, chips, burgers and wraps,” says Godwin.
Unfortunately, Korea’s most common companion to any order of fried chicken – beer – won’t be available as the new site hasn’t got a liquor licence yet. “It is very traditional to serve fried chicken with beer but that’s up to the franchisee, they have flexibility to do that.”
The Macquarie NeNe outlet is mid-sized, with a 50/50 ration of people dining in and taking away. The fit-out is smart and modern, and as the offering is premium fast food, those who do eat in get their food served on crockery.
Godwin says he and the company will be looking at more NeNe locations in inner-Sydney and the west. “Generally, we'd be hoping for at least six outlets across Sydney over two years,” he says.
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