HomePopeyes opens its first location in London

Popeyes opens its first location in London

LONDON – There were biscuits, but not the kind that Brits are familiar with.

“It looks like a cake, but it doesn’t taste like it,” Victoria Obuchi said after trying a cookie.

One of the challenges for any company expanding internationally is translating the cultural elements of its brand into a new market. For Popeyes, the American fried chicken chain that opened its first outlet in Britain over the weekend, the challenge was biscuits, which in British English means cake, not fluffy bread.

On Saturday, hundreds of customers waited in line for hours in the food court of Westfield Stratford City in east London for their first taste of Popeyes. Some said they had heard of The frenzy it caused in the United States In 2019. Others heard about the brand through references in rap. (“Then I got there and all the Popeyes songs, girl,” says one Kanye West song.) Some Americans living in London said they were eager to get a taste of home.

Tom Crowley, chief executive of Popeyes UK, said it was clear from the focus groups that the typical British customer was confused about the concept of buttermilk biscuits. Complicating matters further, the biscuits are more like scones, which are usually served with hot tea, not with fried chicken.

He remembers that focus group participants would say: “Why would you give me a chicken cake? I have no idea what you’re doing.”

And he added, “I think if we did the research, we probably wouldn’t, if I’m being honest.”

The team eventually decided to put biscuits on the menu to keep the brand true to its Louisiana roots. “All of that legacy plays well,” said Mr. Crowley. “The UK, in our view, actually appreciates that great fried chicken will come from the southern United States.”

Raymond Brasselman, from New Orleans, near where the chain was founded in 1972, and who lived in Britain for 18 months, said he couldn’t find fried chicken compared to what he grew up eating. “It’s definitely a home here in the UK,” he said on Saturday, approaching the front of the class. “So I’ve been waiting for that for about two months now.”

Popeyes, one of the largest fried chicken chains in the United States, was founded in Louisiana by Al Copeland, who was born into a poor family in New Orleans. His first attempt at a fried chicken restaurant, inspired by the opening of Kentucky Fried Chicken in New Orleans, was a failure. He modified his chicken recipe, adding chili and Cajun-inspired spices, and changed the name to Popeyes. (He said he couldn’t stand the apostrophe.) It was a hit.

By the end of the 1980s, it owned or franchised over 800 locations. Today there are more than 3,400 Popeyes worldwide, in countries such as Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, China, Jamaica and Brazil.

Popeyes, which is owned by Restaurant Brands International, is betting it can outpace the competition in Britain, which is no stranger to fried chicken and has American brands like KFC. Crowley said there are plans to open 10 to 15 additional Popeyes locations in Britain next year.

Many Americans said the food at the London location was as good as they remembered it. But there are some differences from American franchises. Chicken is halal to meet the needs of the Muslim population in the area. Almost all ingredients are sourced from Britain, including baby lettuce, which is hard to find in the United States. The menu also includes the chain’s first vegan burger, which is made with fried red kidney beans, a nod to the strong demand for vegetarian foods in the British market.

Other American fast food companies are expanding into Britain. Wendy’s opened last week in Croydon, outside London, and is the fourth Wendy’s location to open in Britain since June. McDonald’s also plans to open new locations. two years ago, Chick-fil-A opens its first British restaurantBut it announced it would close after just six months after activists demonstrated against the company’s opposition to same-sex marriage. (Chick-fil-A said at the time that she planned to stay for a limited time anyway.)

Dante Ellington-Grant got up at 7am on Saturday and traveled over an hour from his home in London to line up at the new Popeyes on its opening day.

“It was a breath of fresh air,” he said of his meal, describing the chicken’s taste and crunch. He also loved biscuits, which he thought were better than donuts.

“I don’t eat cookies,” he said.