I don’t mean to brag, but as a marginally revered food writer and cookbook author, I command a certain amount of respect in the circles I travel in. Every person who comes into my orbit understands the magnitude of The Takeout’s greatness, and treats me accordingly. I’m known as both a mover and a shaker— a gal who has her finger planted firmly on the pulse of this whole damn industry—so if something fishy seems to be going down in the food world, I’m the one who people call to get some answers and make things right. Earlier this week, I received an extremely concerning Facebook message from Julie, a fellow parent at my kids’ elementary school:
“Something threw my husband for a loop at Popeyes yesterday,” she wrote. “They have discontinued the Cajun Rice! At least that’s what they told him at the drive-thru. He can’t find any info online, so maybe you can help?”
I was pretty sure that this was false intel, possibly concocted by a rogue employee who perhaps had forgotten to make Cajun Rice that day, because there’s no way Popeyes would 86 what is indubitably the best side dish on its menu. I told her not to worry and said I’d hit up my contacts on the inside to make sure nothing disastrous was afoot—same spiel I tell always give the anxious folks who ask me to allay their worst fast food fears. And in my hubris, I failed to emotionally prepare myself for Popeyes’ response.
“At Popeyes, we are always listening to feedback from our guests and looking for ways to improve our menu,” read the world-shattering email. “So after thoughtful consideration, our Cajun Rice and Green Beans are no longer on the permanent menu. However, we still have a bunch of delicious sides.” [Emphasis ours.]
Cajun Rice is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s run off and gone to meet its maker! There was no major announcement or ceremonious send-off; it died a cold, ignominious death without an ounce of fanfare, joining the choir invisible without ever knowing how deeply it was loved. We never got to say goodbye. (The green beans can go straight to hell where they’ve always belonged and stay there.)
I broke the news to Julie, who said she didn’t want to share the news with her husband as “his disappointment at that drive-thru window was palpable,” and asked me to reach out to him on her behalf. While I don’t know the man all that well, I understand that with great power comes great responsibility. Even though it wasn’t pleasant, I personally reached out to break the poor man’s heart. He responded to Popeyes’ statement with one of his own, which I have chosen to print in full so that the company’s execs may see what hell they hath wrought:
As far as fast food goes, Popeye’s Cajun rice is my Madeleine de Proust. I’ve been eating it ever since the mid-’80s. That’s when, every Friday night, my father took my brother and me to the mall in Columbia, Maryland, for baseball cards, comic books, and, of course, Popeye’s. I would get a three-piece meal: mild, white meat, Cajun rice. Since then, I’ve moved on to dark meat and spicy — but Cajun rice has always been my side. Needless to say, this is pretty distressing. And I’m not one to get distressed by this sort of thing. I’m pretty Buddhistic usually... but this makes me want to go Old Testament. I am truly crestfallen.
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This email speaks to all of us who are hurting right now. Popeyes may not have granted Cajun Rice the dignified end it deserved, but this email has. I’m sure the Cajun Rice is up there somewhere, smiling down on us all.