In 2010, Jared Turner traveled to South Africa for the FIFA World Cup. It was a life-changing trip, but not because of the soccer.
One night, he padded down to the hotel restaurant for dinner, and his server recommended the piri piri chicken. The spiciness and the complexity of the flavor astounded him. There at the table, he decided he had to bring the dish to Utah.
Eight years later, after several return trips to South Africa, Turner and Sandile Makasi, a South African native, opened the first Zulu Grille at Thanksgiving Point, 2951 Club House Drive, in Lehi. A second location, at 10709 S. Redwood Road in South Jordan, is slated to open on Friday, July 29.
Makasi recalled meeting Turner in 2011. “I would take him to have piri piri chicken every day, because that’s what he wanted to have,” Makasi said. “He said, ‘Hey, man, we need to bring this to Utah, because it’s not there.’”
Back in Utah, Turner worked with his friend, Nicki Davis, who had a deep background in nonprofits, to come up with the concept for the restaurant.
“As we were talking about bringing the flavor and wonderful food of Africa to Utah, we also wanted to bring the culture of Africa to Utah,” Makasi said. “Our decision was to do a meal-for-meal program, where for every meal one purchases at Zulu Grille, a portion of that meal goes to help feed those who are in need.”
Makasi said the meal-for-meal program springs from the African concept of ubuntu, derived from the Zulu phrase “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu,” which means “a person is a person through other people.”
It took several years to vet a partner organization, he said. After interviewing dozens of orphanages and NGOs in Johannesburg, in 2017 Makasi and Turner met Khanyisile Motsa, founder of Home of Hope for Girls. The nonprofit protects and helps girls and teens escape from human trafficking, sends them to school, and offers a homey atmosphere where they can recover from their trauma.
Motsa was the last person they met with, and it was immediately clear, Makasi said, that they had found their partner.
Motsa said, “I was not into charity before. I had my small business, which was import and export. But I saw children being used by pimps and drug lords on the streets. That’s when I said, ‘This cannot happen in my lifetime.’ I started helping the children out, taking them to my own apartment to stay with me.”
Human trafficking remains a stubborn problem in South Africa, Motsa said. But since taking those first little girls to her apartment to keep them safe in 2000, Home of Hope for Girls has helped 11,000 girls and women escape human trafficking, and get their educations.
The charity now runs two homes in Johannesburg, where 75 girls live full-time, and another 150 are supported by outreach. Once in the program, the focus is on supporting the girls, on attending school and keeping them safe, bringing in legal protection when necessary.
The houses are meant to feel homey and familial, Motsa said. “These children, for the first time in their lives, they discover a space where they can be themselves, where they can be children again,” she said.
Makasi said the other part of the story is New Orleans native Rob Howell, who serves as executive chef at both restaurants. Makasi said that piri-piri chicken uses the African bird’s-eye chili, which can be quite hot, but as a Cajun chef, Howell knows how to work with spicy peppers.
“In fact, to make our sauce, to get it the way it is, Rob tried several times to find the right one, and so he found the one we have,” Makasi said. “Rob is an integral part here, because he was able to learn about African food, but infuse it with flavors for the American palate.”
The chicken is marinated for 48 hours in spicy piri-piri sauce, and is served with African yellow rice and a cucumber-mango salad. Howell, with the understanding that Utahns are not always fans of spicy food, designed the menu with a “spice index,” starting with chicken marinated in a mild savory lemon-garlic, all the way up to the piri-piri “Africa-hot.”
Chicken can be ordered on sandwiches, or in salads and bowls. Howell has also drawn on his own Louisiana food culture, with dishes like Andouille sausage gumbo. Sides include African street corn, tri-colored potatoes and sweet potato wedges. The kids’ menu is more sophisticated than most, with smaller servings slightly modified for kids, like the chicken strips with tri-colored potatoes.
Makasi will be flying in from Johannesburg to attend the opening of the South Jordan location of Zulu Grille, which will be celebrated with a ribbon-cutting and an authentic South African dance performance — and Makasi will sing a traditional Xhosa song when he gives his speech.
“We’re going on four years now,” he said. “We’re going strong. South Jordan is our second location, but soon we hope to have hundreds of locations across the United States — and the world.”
Opening day for the new Zulu Grille in South Jordan, 10709 S. Redwood Rd., is 11 a.m. on Friday, July 29. Hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. View the full menu at zulugrille.com, and keep up with the latest on their Facebook and Instagram accounts.