Watch your back, KFC: Popeyes is moving in on China

Photo: JHVEPhoto (iStock)

After its resounding defeat of Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s in last summer’s chicken sandwich wars, Popeyes is definitely feeling itself. Which is why it’s now heading into the last great frontier for American fast food: Asia. Well, okay, it tried before, back in the ’90s, and was gone by 2003, but that was a different time and a different owner, and way, way before the chicken sandwich.

KFC currently dominates the Asian fried chicken market, where it has much better offerings than it does over here. It’s a fixture in the fanciest city neighborhoods. A store opening is a cause for great fanfare and celebration. It’s so beloved that it’s become an integral part of Christmas celebrations in Japan. Not even McDonald’s can compare.

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But now, here comes Popeyes with its Louisiana spices and its notorious chicken sandwich. (Do we have to say anything more about the chicken sandwich? Everyone has heard that it’s a great chicken sandwich, so great that it causes fights and traffic jams. Actually, the two clauses in that last sentence don’t quite fit together, but it’s what happened, and this is the fractured reality we’re living in right now.) Popeyes plans to open its first Asian franchise in Shanghai in March. And not just anywhere in Shanghai: It’s opening on Huahai Middle Road, the city’s biggest and ritziest shopping street.

That’s not all, though. Popeyes announced that it plans to open 1,499 more stores in China in the next ten years. “We will become the top chicken brand player in China which is a critical market to us,” Jose Cil, the CEO of Restaurant Brands Inc., Popeyes’ parent company, told the South China Morning Post. “We are in competition with everybody, with your grandmother when she cooks at home, with other players in the chicken spaces.”

Another crucial bit of information that the South China Morning Post felt worthy of mentioning in the headline: Popeyes is Beyoncé’s favorite fried chicken. Further down, the article shared this information: Popeyes catered her 2008 wedding to Jay-Z and she has a special card that entitles her to a lifetime supply. It’s good to know these things.

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Aimee Levitt

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.