Exterior of Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen in Lansing, Kansas.
The Financial Disaster That Almost Ended Popeyes
By C.A. Pinkham
Popeyes' signature recipe inspires diehard devotion in a way that no other fast food chicken brand can match, but despite the company's success, it nearly went under in the '90s.
Founded in New Orleans in 1972 by visionary Al Copeland, Popeyes became America's third-largest chicken chain by the late 1980s.
However, in 1989, Copeland tried a shortcut to success by purchasing Church's Chicken, reasoning that he could corner the market by buying the then second-largest chicken chain.
Copeland paid an exorbitant fee of $330 million, or over $800 million in 2023 dollars, for Church's Chicken, which was in bad shape financially.
Additionally, acquiring a competing brand meant his own franchises were cannibalizing each other from geographical proximity. Before long, Copeland was $400 million in debt.
Ultimately, he sold the company to his creditors in 1991, which saved it from going under, but the new owners had to keep paying him if they wanted to keep selling Popeyes chicken.