Popeyes was founded by Al Copeland in 1972 as Chicken on the Run. The first restaurant was located in Arabi, Louisiana. After initially losing money, Copeland changed the recipe to a spicier blend and re-opened the restaurant as Popeyes Mighty Good Fried Chicken. Copeland claims that the name he used did not come from Popeye the Sailor cartoon, but rather from the detective from the movie The French Connection, Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle.
The company has changed names several times, from the original Chicken on the Run to Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits to Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken and Biscuits to Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, the last name being used since 2008.
By 1990, Copeland Enterprises was in default on more than $391 million. The company filed for bankruptcy. The courts approved a repayment program and the company emerged from bankruptcy in 1992.
In 1976, the first franchise location opened in Baton Rouge.
By 1986, there were 500 restaurants in the chain.
In 1989, Popeyes merged with Church’s Chicken under the AFC Enterprises umbrella company. AFC sold Church’s Chicken to Arcapita in 2004.
In 2008, founder Al Copeland died.
In early 2017, the company was acquired by Restaurant Brands International for $1.8 billion. The company now operates as a subsidiary of Restaurant Brands.
In early 2018, the company began to offer delivery service in limited areas due to high demand from customers.
In August 2019, the company introduced a new fried chicken sandwich. The product became a viral sensation with nearly all locations selling out quickly. One customer was so angry at his inability to obtain a sandwich that he sued the company of $5,000.
The CEO Jose Cil said that the company greatly underestimated the popularity of their new product and that he never expected it would “break the internet.”
Less than 1 month after being introduced, the company had to stop offering the sandwich due to demand but stated that they expected to reintroduce it next month when they reached new deals with suppliers.
Today, the company operates over 2600 restaurants in 40 US states and 22 countries worldwide. They are the second-largest chicken fast food restaurant in the world, right behind KFC.
In September 2020, the company named Sami Siddiqui as its new CEO.