This time, it could well be the right one for the American challenger of the giant KFC. After a whirlwind round trip to France with Lodarest in 2017-2018, the chicken specialist chain Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, which has 3,900 restaurants worldwide, is about to make a comeback. Driven by the know-how of the Napaqaro group, franchise holder for France and parent company of Buffalo Grill and Courtepaille, the brand is in the starting blocks, preparing to inaugurate its new Parisian flagship on February 1 on the forecourt of the Gare du Nord. The first in a long series, while Napaqaro is aiming for around twenty restaurants or “dark kitchens” this year and no less than 300 by 2030. Xavier Expilly, who has held the position of COO of the brand since last spring after a long experience in catering and retail, explains why this new trial will be transformed.
Can you introduce us to the Popeyes Louisana Kitchen brand? On what promise is it based?
The founding of the brand dates back to 1972 in the United States, with the opening of the first restaurant in New Orleans by Al Copeland. He wanted to offer authentic Louisiana cuisine, with a fusion of cooking styles, spices and ingredients allowing for spicy meals with Creole and Cajun notes. Thus, at Popeyes, the chicken is marinated for 12 hours in a secret mixture of spices and breaded by hand, a strong differentiation compared to other market players for a real firework in the mouth. After opening 5 restaurants, the chain opened up to franchising in 1976 for rapid development and reached 500 establishments in 1988. After the acquisition of the Church’s Chicken chain in 1989, development continued in South America. North until the takeover by RBI (Restaurant Brands International) in 2017 which marked the ambition to develop all over the world. Today, Popeyes has 3,900 restaurants in around thirty countries, including 3,500 in the US, with an accelerating network, particularly in Spain, where we have around fifty establishments, in the United Kingdom since our arrival in November 2021 but also in Switzerland, in Romania and therefore, very soon, in France.
Precisely, what are your ambitions in France?
Our first French establishment will therefore open on 1is next February in Paris, on the forecourt of the Gare du Nord, at 9 boulevard de Denain. This will be an important step for Popeyes as for the Napaqaro group, which has the masterfranchise for France. But we do not intend to stop there because the objective is to shake up the French fast food sector with strong ambitions. To do this, we can rely on our iconic recipes and a flexible and innovative concept. Thus, a 2e address should quickly open in Paris intramural with sights also towards Lyon, Marseille but also other medium-sized cities by adopting a “cluster” strategy. Dark kitchens will also strengthen the brand’s network to live the experience at home from mid-February with the aim that the Popeyes offer will be tasted and tested by more than 80% of the Ile-de-France region by the end of 2023. Our flight plan thus plans to reach 20 own restaurants or dark kitchens by the same deadline, and 300 establishments by 2030.
The first foray into France with Lodarest had come to an end, why is this time the right one? Have you since made any adaptations to the concept?
First, the strength of the concept is there and Popeyes is now a global player in the fried chicken segment (but not only…), number 2 in the world. Then, in 2017-2018, the very high price positioning adopted was not the same, for a level of service far from what we are going to offer. The brand will thus be able to rely on the know-how of the group and highly experienced operational teams. We want to offer a premium level of service and product quality while maintaining a price level in line with market standards. A lot of work on revenue levels has also been carried out specifically for the French market. Of course, customers will be able to find our emblematic product, the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich offered in a classic or spicy version, made with fresh locally sourced chicken. Long marinated, it is breaded by hand and fried in the restaurant to guarantee a juicy meat on the inside and crispy on the outside before coming to garnish a brioche-style bread accompanied by mayonnaise and pickles. But a third of the recipes have been specially adapted to suit the tastes of our compatriots by a French executive chef. Examples include the Chicken Sandwich Deluxe, incorporating quality products such as sucrine and French Cantal, or even a veggie version, the Red Bean Burger. French customers will also find different recipes around grilled chicken – and not just fried – or shrimp-based. Of course, all its products will be fresh and prepared on demand and I still insist on the attention paid to sourcing with 100% French chicken or even the use of French cheeses…
What customer experience do you want to offer?
We were very careful to offer a pleasant atmosphere at the point of sale by adopting a design that breaks a bit with the traditional codes of fast food. This begins with the use of noble materials such as Corian, the choice of seats with padded seats, the brightness. The choice of the open kitchen, focusing on transparency, also allows customers to follow the preparation of recipes. But it is also an unprecedented quality of service on the market. 2 flows are thus organised, one for takeaway sales, the other for consumption in restaurants. The customer can then order directly via easel, via their mobile phone and be served directly at the table. Here again, it is a French specificity and a strong choice since our restaurants will have, for example, a head waiter, a waiter, as in table catering. There will also be a trolley presenting the desserts “as in the old fashioned way” or the management of the clearing of the tables… Thus, it is a brigade of 120 people who will be directly involved in the opening of the first restaurant in Paris. Finally, attentive to waste, the brand has set up an exclusive “Re-Uze” program which allows the reuse of its tableware in short circuits in its restaurants.
You also want to offer a phygital experience, how?
Today, I believe that catering should be omnichannel. This is why we created a Dark Kitchens and digital operation department last year, specifically for Popeyes, in order to address these issues in a very operational way by adopting the codes specific to e-commerce. Of course, the Popeyes kitchen will be available in click and collect. We are in the process of finalizing the signature of an exclusive contract with the Deliveroo platform for delivery, a channel on which the brand is very successful, particularly in the UK. Moreover, our restaurants have been designed to offer delivery flows independent of table service. I also mentioned previously the dark kitchen models. The first 2 kitchens should be operational by the end of March to cater to Ile-de-France residents. Others will follow, whether via the brand’s own kitchens or via a host like Deliveroo Editions.
You will be present in March as an exhibitor at Franchise Expo Paris, will the franchise be the preferred model?
All our openings will initially take place in a branch mode. Above all, we want to release and break in our model, by testing different formats. This will range from downtown restaurants to those on the outskirts, with solo buildings, with drive, without drive, 100% VAE/Click & Collect or with table service, dark kitchens, even nomadic formats such as containers why not. We are fortunate to be able to rely on an extremely flexible and efficient concept. But it was important for us to anticipate the future when we know that it takes at least one year between the selection of franchise candidates and the physical opening of the restaurant. The objective of our presence will therefore be to make the first contacts, but the first franchise establishments should not open before mid-2024.
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