Popeyes Philippines Will Set a Trend for Popeyes All Over the World
Filipinos and chicken—two entities that just work together. Over the years, Filipinos have come up with numerous lists of favorites and go-to restaurants to satisfy their chicken fix. Fried, roasted, steamed, grilled—the availability of options shows just how much we love this humble bird.
We share our love for chicken with the Americans and it shows in the many iconic chains from the U.S. that have been opening in the country, the newest of which is Popeyes, the legacy restaurant that has been serving Southern-style fried chicken in spicy and original flavors since 1972.
The first Popeyes franchise in the Philippines closed in 2007, and this revival is courtesy of a new set of partners, the Kuya J group of companies (Kuya J, Majestic Restaurant, Isla Sugbu Seafood City, to name a few).
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen (PLK) was founded in New Orleans by Al Copeland Sr., who was known as a homegrown Liberace (he was just as flamboyant as the musician) in his town. Initially named Chicken on the Run, it was Copeland's move into fast food, away from the business of doughnuts, his first venture. It was about the time KFC outlets started opening in New Orleans.
When Chicken on the Run failed to take off (the main criticism was the chicken was too bland), Copeland rebranded it Popeyes Mighty Good Fried Chicken. He promised diners they would get their chicken before they got their change.
The origin of the name of Popeyes is interesting. It took its name from Popeye Doyle, the character played by actor Gene Hackman in the 1971 film The French Connection, and not from Popeye the Sailorman, the comic strip. Popeyes nonetheless used that image of Popeye and friends in its campaigns up until 2012. Today, its "Love that Chicken" song from the '80s still rings a bell. More significantly, its improved recipe has kept the business going.
American-style chicken rooted in the big, bold flavors of Louisiana and the deep South is what Popeyes is now known for. Even the late famous TV host Anthony Bourdain favored the spicy friend chicken back in the day.
At the opening of Popeyes Philippines at Arcovia on C5, we learned its Louisiana recipe heritage is influenced by a variety of cultures, including the French. According to Francis Reyes, Kuya J Group of Companies Group CFO, this French-American taste also embraces Cajun and Creole flavors, and evokes the parties and celebrations of the two cultures.
Though Popeyes Chicken is rooted in tradition, Popeyes Philippines debuted a fresh and modern look. The design of the 190-seater space in Arcovia will be replicated in Popeyes all over the world.
Reyes expounds, "This brand image will be the first of many, not just in the Philippines, but across the globe: hip, millennial, young, colorful, something that would make you feel homey, comfortable, and excited to eat."
He adds, "Filipinos love their chicken, all of us would want the best-tasting chicken wherever we may be." Reyes shares how he, his partners, and the management of Kuya J always used to look for a Popeyes branch whenever they were in the United States, Hong Kong, or elsewhere in Asia.
Popeyes is the first quick-service restaurant for the Kuya J Group. "We are well-prepared for executing an operation like Popeyes because we have a world-class commissary and people and executives supporting the group," says Reyes.
He also assures the flavor of the Philippine Popeyes will be the same as others in the world. "We have been working on this for a number of months to make sure that the same experience of eating Popeyes in the U.S. will be enjoyed by the Filipinos in the Philippines. We really worked hard to make sure this is the case."
He adds that to keep that same taste going, the chain makes sure that "the batter, the flavor, the seasoning that we use is exactly the same as the ones in the U.S. For the chicken, there are a lot of ingredients coming from the U.S. that we have incorporated here to make it match or be exactly the same as the U.S."
What makes Popeyes Philippines different from the rest of the world is the inclusion of uniquely Filipino flavors, like the sweet spaghetti and the addition of more flavors on top of the original honey biscuits.
This is something Reyes and the team are particularly proud of: "Our hazelnut and white chocolate biscuits, you cannot find those anywhere but the Philippines. If you start seeing them at other Popeyes later this year, know that it was something the Philippine store pioneered. There is a big likelihood that we are rolling it out across the globe, so if you ever find a chocolate biscuit, eat it with pride because it started here."
In a market saturated with many, many chicken choices, Reyes is positive about Popeyes conquering its fair share. "I know for sure it is going to be very successful, going back to Filipinos being chicken lovers," he says. "We understand the palate of Filipinos and the love of Filipinos, not just for chicken, but for sweet and savory dishes—biscuits, crab soup, salmon sandwiches, French Quarter sandwiches, shrimp and fish sandwiches."
Opening 20 more locations in the second half of the year, expect a store opening every week or, in some instances, twice a week. A quick look at its Instagram hashtag, #popeyesph, shows many covered store fronts across the metro, waiting to open their doors. For now, Popeyes is focused on growing the Metro Manila market before taking a look at the rest of the Philippines.