Fast food chains are as varied as they are big. And each and every one of them has its own secrets that it hopes nobody will find out about. Secrets like name changes, embarrassing recipes, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, or just lurid details that you’d like to know. Preferably while you nibble on a meal from the said franchise. Today It’s Popeyes turn. Some of these secrets are funny. Others are just plain shocking. But we won’t hold out on you.
10. The Name Change
Popeyes wasn’t always Popeyes. It went through various name changes before settling on this catchy one. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with changing your franchise’s name especially when it hasn’t reached that level of growth yet. But what really makes the name change interesting is the types of names the company went through. It started with Chicken on the Run. And not it wasn’t inspired by Band on the Run the hit song by Paul McCartney and Wings. That one came out a decade later. The name just probably sounded snazzy to the founder Al Copeland at the time. However, he soon got tired of it in a matter of months and changed it into Popeye’s Famous Fried Chicken. How he came up with the Popeye name is another story that will reveal later. But for now, Copeland was on a quest to find the perfect name. He soon realized that having the word ‘famous’ in the name doesn’t guarantee either fame or success. So he changed the name yet again. This time it became Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits. Now you have to admit that this is an adorable name. It’s also curious that he still kept the Popeye name like he has already made up his mind about it. Finally, he changed the name for the last time to its current name, Popeyes Louisiana Chicken. What a journey!
9. It has a charismatic founder
It takes more than an average person to propel a fried chicken outlet into a worldwide success. And Al Copeland certainly is not your average Joe. He’s larger than life guy who’s had many nicknames throughout his life. One of those names is Spender. And you can guess why he got that name. But let’s digress. Al Copeland was born in 1944 with nothing going for him but his huge dreams and gigantic ambitions. Up until he started Popeyes he was leading a very ordinary life even by Lousiana’s standards. He didn’t come from a rich family or anything. His early life was a struggle just as he struggled with settling with a name for his restaurant as we’ve already seen. But once Popeyes hit the big time, Al Copeland knew his time has come. He wasn’t a man to be modest about his wealth. He flaunted it wherever he went. And he did go everywhere. He ran boat racing teams, owned a comedy club called The Improv and even started other food franchises. That’s right. He owns the restaurant chain Copeland’s. It has over 20 chains in Louisiana and neighboring states and hasn’t gone any name changes since it was established.
8. Popeyes had nothing to do with the cartoon character
Ask anyone who Popeye is and they would immediately mention the cartoon character that loves to eat spinach and whack his enemies with his larger-than-life forearms. But before Al Copeland settled on that name or even opened the restaurant, the movie The French Connection hit theatres and became an instant success. In the movie, Gene Hackman plays a detective named Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle. Hackman was cool, suave, and charismatic in the role. And that resonated with Al Copeland. So while he was pursuing the ultimate name for his fast-food restaurant he remembered the move that came out a year before. As we have already seen Popeye kept bouncing through several names before Popeyes Louisiana Chicken became the official and final name for the franchise. If that tells us anything it’s that the movie had a great impression on Copeland that he would remember it after all this time and actually stick with that name throughout the restaurant’s different name mutations. Sadly the movie didn’t pass the test of time and as it faded from our collective memory, all that the name Popeye reminds us of now is the fried chicken and the cartoon character.
7. Popeyes vs. KFC and the tastiest chicken
With all the competition between the fast-food franchises, a clash was bound to happen. And by clash, we mean a contest where each chain tries to prove that it serves the best-fried chicken in the world. Generally speaking, this kind of thing doesn’t happen often. Maybe it’s because giant fast food franchises know that there’s no glory in winning (it’s all fast food after all) and losing would just impact sales. Case in point when Starbucks ranked at the bottom for the best coffee outlets. So fast food giants prefer to duke it out in marketing and advertising rather than go against each other head to head in an honest contest. But sometimes the inevitable happens and some national contest pits the fast food chains against each other. Like the time in 2010 when a national taste test asked the public to name their favorite fried chicken meal. The stakes were high because this is about more than just pride or bragging rights. The winner will talk about it for a long time and make sure people hear about it over and over again. The loser will suffer financially and see a period of low sales. But in the end, Popeyes Spicy and Mild Bonafide Fried Chicken won the day while KFC’s Original Recipe lost without dignity or grace. It’s true both are fried chicken, but a win is a win.
6. Anthony Bourdain was a big fan
Every food chain has its own hardcore fanbase. It’s natural that some people would only eat at McDonald’s while others would never set foot in the place. People have different tastes and the fast food market plays on these differences to attract new customers while trying hard not to lose the current ones. Now some of the fans can be celebrities themselves. Which is fine. Celebrities are human after all and they have their own weaknesses just like every one of us. And Popeyes had no less than the late great Anthony Bourdain as one of its biggest fans. Before he passed away, Bourdain described his passion for Popeyes in an interview with The Boston Globe. He called it his guilty pleasure and he named a certain meal as his passion. He went on, “But my real guilty pleasure — my really disgusting, shameful pleasure — is the mac and cheese at Popeye’s fried chicken.” Notice how he wasn’t proud about it and calling it “shameful pleasure”? In fact, he had a strong desire about keeping it a secret that he wouldn’t go to Popeyes during the day. Rather, “Late at night, I’ve been known to sneak in there with a hoodie on — and I always get nailed.”
5. September is Popeyes month
Why September you might ask. Well, nobody knows for sure. It might be a marketing ploy. It might be that September is has a special significance to the founder. Or maybe it was just picked at random. What we know for certain is that in 2013, the company came out with a bold declaration. September, the company said, was going to be “Love That Chicken Month.” And by chicken they mean the Popeyes chicken and by love it, they mean eat it. It all makes sense now. Every September we should all go in droves to eat at Popeyes. But does that mean that for the rest of the year we should refrain from loving that chicken? The statement wasn’t clear about that. But just to encourage the fast chain fans to take the September campaign seriously, the company tends to offer a lot of promotions and discounts during September. And that’s something we can’t pass. Give me a fried chicken promotion any time be it September or February.
4. Spicy recipes saved the franchise
Let’s make one thing clear, Al Copeland is a charismatic personality but he was no miracle worker. He never claimed to have the Midas touch turning anything he touches into gold. In fact, before Popeyes made it big it was struggling. Especially in the first few months when sales were low and people didn’t find the menu appealing. Back then Copeland was offering mild fried chicken that had nothing over KFC or even home fried chicken. At the end of his rope and not knowing how to turn things around, Copeland made a last ditch effort to draw customers. He switched to spicy fried chicken. The restaurant kept its mild chicken on the menu but started offering a second choice. That second choice was non-other than its famous spicy Cajun chicken. But for some reason that still didn’t work. Something drastic needed to happen to make the change Copeland hoped for. So he shut down the restaurant and changed a few things around. The changes didn’t just include the menu, the spicy chicken, and the decor but also the name. It was around this time that he started using Popeye in the name and this time things worked out well. People fell in love with the spicy Cajun chicken and liked the new name well enough. And the rest, as they say, is history.
3. 1991 was a bad year for the company
In the world of business and finance, declaring bankruptcy is a regular thing. Many businessmen swallow that bitter pill in the hope that things will get better and they can get on their feet later. But when a company declares bankruptcy there usually is not coming back from that. Especially if it’s a fast food giant. But back in 1991, Popeyes took that extreme measure because debts were piling up and the company coffers were empty. When Copeland found himself facing $391 million in unpaid bills. So how did a successful fast-food chain fall into such a deep hole? Well, it didn’t have anything to do with the founder’s famously lavish lifestyle. Rather it was the fast expansions. Copeland made some drastic decisions to expand rapidly and open several outlets all over the world at once. Of course, expansion incurs spending and it takes time for the new outlets to start making a profit. With millions in debt, the company had no other choice but declare bankruptcy. But that wasn’t the end of Popeyes. A year later the company was back as the parent company of two franchises. America’s Favorite Chicken Company was now the owner of both Popeyes and Church’s Fried Chicken.
2. Popeyes sells livers and gizzards too
As unappetizing as this sounds, it’s a fact that certain locations serve unsavory menus that one wouldn’t associate it normally with Popeyes. Livers and gizzards? Sounds far-fetched. But these are not the kind of dishes you’ll find on a regular outlet. They only serve these in certain markets which have an appetite for the chicken innards. The thing is, they taste as awful as they sound. Yes, some people might fancy them, but you need to keep in mind the health hazards. The fried liver is by far the unhealthiest meal you can ever consume in a fast chain outlet or any restaurant for that matter. Not only are chicken livers crammed with high levels of cholesterol, frying them makes them even unhealthier. consider for example that a regular meal of fried chicken liver contains 80 grams of fat. It also has 1,190 calories and more cholesterol than your poor heart can possibly handle. So before you go searching for Popeyes outlets that sell fried chicken gizzards you should remember that these dishes are an acquired taste. If they were really that tasty they would be sold all over the country or even the world. And with these health and taste reservations, I’m not sure there’s anything appealing about eating chicken guts.
1. The company had to buy its own recipes back
This one is an embarrassing secret that the company doesn’t like to see it go out. But secrets are our trade and we don’t like to hold out on our readers. It all goes back to 1991, that year the company had to file for bankruptcy. It was bought over the next year which saved it from its financial difficulties. But even though Al Copeland no longer owned the company, he still had an ace up his sleeve. That ace is the spicy recipes which he came up in the early 1970s and literally saved his budding dream from collapse. These same recipes which the company still used were owned by Copeland. And for their use, the company had to pay Al $3.1 million every year in royalties. It’s a lot of money, we know, but these are not regular chicken recipes you can get online either. Finally, the company and Al sat down together and came to an agreement. Copeland would sell his spicy chicken recipes to the company for a one time fee of $43 million. Which goes to show that spending time in the kitchen and coming up with your own recipes pays in the long run.