As the company’s official history states, Copeland sold “traditional mild fried chicken [but] business was slow, and Copeland realized that he’d have to sell a spicier alternative to his standard chicken recipe if he wanted to impress flavor-seeking New Orleanians. Copeland had already been experimenting with the flavorful Cajun recipes he’d been enjoying all his life and soon reopened his restaurant as ‘Popiz’.
The chain would later license the namesake cartoon character for use as a promotional tool, which added to the confusion regarding the source of the name, though as of 2006 the company’s history page on its website omits any mention of the cartoon Popeye.
Copeland began franchising his restaurant in 1976, beginning in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, adding approximately 500 outlets over the next 10 years, followed by 200 more during a period of slower expansion. Copeland became a New Orleans icon due to his flamboyant lifestyle, including his eponymous power boat racing teams, and his annual Christmas light show at his mansion located in an upscale neighborhood in Metairie.
In 1989, Popeyes, then the third-largest chicken chain, merged with Church’s Chicken, the second largest, though parent company AFC Enterprises operated the two chains separately. On December 29, 2004, AFC sold Church’s to Arcapita (formerly Crescent Capital Investments), retaining Popeyes.
On October 30, 2006, AFC announced that Popeyes planned to introduce a trans fat-free biscuit as well as french fries containing one gram of trans fat by year-end.