Here’s Why Popeyes Almost Disappeared From The Fast Food Scene – Eat This, Not That

Popeyes is currently one of America’s most popular and profitable fast food brands, but it hasn’t always been that way. After making a name for itself with spicy fried chicken, the company made a bad business decision, one that nearly destroyed Popeyes before it had the chance to change the world of fast food.

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Popeyes was founded by Al Copeland in 1972, a young New Orleans donut store entrepreneur who realized that fried chicken could be the most profitable fast food business. Copeland modeled Popeyes’ idea after KFC’s success in the 1970s, when the chicken chain absolutely dominated the market and had high returns on sales.

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sprinkle with Cajun popeyes
Kaley Roberts / Eat This, Not That!

In order to differentiate Popeyes from KFC and give him a strong hometown identity, Copeland decided to infuse his chicken with the Cajun flavor we know and love today. Popeyes went from serving bland chicken under a different name to adding heat to the spice blend and became the Popeyes. And it worked: by the mid-1970s, the chain was making a name for itself and had started to franchise.

Popeyes Cookies
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen / Facebook

Back in the early ’80s, Popeyes had that recognizable brand identity you know and love today, complemented by the longtime slogan’ love this chicken ‘and its revolutionary buttermilk cookies. By 1985, its footprint had reached over 500 restaurants nationwide.

chicken restaurant churches
Ken Wolter / Shutterstock

In the 1980s, the pecking order of fried chicken chains was as follows: KFC absolutely dominated the market, while Church’s and Popeyes were roughly equal, both claiming a much smaller market share in second and third place. respectively.

Then, in a sudden move that surprised many, Popeyes’ Al Copeland decided to buy competitor Church’s in a deal worth nearly $ 400 million. While Church’s didn’t want to be bought by the smaller Popeyes, the ailing company finally accepted merger and the two chicken actors became one in 1989.

However, the move was one of the worst business decisions in Popeyes history, a move that precipitated the bankruptcy in 1991 and almost made the brand disappear for good. Church’s was a struggling brand when it was purchased, and the deal cost Popeyes so much money that the debt and interest got too high.

Popeyes Chicken

Fortunately for the Popeyes brand, both chains were bought out of bankruptcy by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. The bank created parent company America’s Favorite Chicken (AFC) which was now in charge of the Church and Popeyes Chicken Empires, saving them from demise. Eventually Church’s was sold a few years later and Popeyes remained the primary focus of the business.

During this time, Copeland retained the rights to Popeyes’ revenue and authorized their use at the AFC from 1992 to 2014 for $ 3.1 million per year. In 2014, the AFC bought the Secret Spice Blend Ratio for $ 43 million.

In 2017, a new era began in Popeyes. The chain was acquired by the mega-company Restaurant Brands International, which owns Burger King and Tim Horton’s, for a estimated at $ 1.8 billion. Since then, the chain has added a slew of locations and launched its now iconic Fried Chicken Sandwich.

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