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Popeyes Chicken Sandwich hunted to extinction – for now

Lee Eric Smith

Apparently, heaven will have to wait – in a line, behind several other cars at a drive-thru window.

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen apparently started – and decisively won – the Chicken Sandwich Wars of 2019 when it launched a new sandwich on August 12. And just like that, it’s over – for now, at least.

On Tuesday, the chicken chain publicly acknowledged what so many of us have learned after being turned away at the drive-thru: Popeyes has sold out of the sandwich – and they can’t say exactly when it’s coming back.

“The demand for the new Chicken Sandwich in the first few weeks following launch far exceeded our very optimistic expectations,” said a statement on Popeyes’ Twitter account. “In fact, Popeyes aggressively forecasted demand through the end of September and has already sold through that inventory.

“As a result, Popeyes restaurants across the country are expected to sell out of the Chicken Sandwich by the end of this week,” the statement continued. “We, along with our suppliers, are working tirelessly to bring the new sandwich back to guests as soon as possible.”

The Chicken Sandwich Wars started with the blasphemous notion that Chick-Fil-A’s supremacy would ever be challenged in this category. And from the Twittersphere to respected food critics, I haven’t read of anyone who’s tried it that says it’s not the best darn chicken sandwich they’ve ever had.

I never was an OMG Chick-Fil-A guy, though. I like Chick-Fil-A, especially when it comes as a sample on a toothpick at a mall food court. But whenever I order one, I’m generally underwhelmed.

Chick-Fil-A’s sandwich tastes good, but it’s not crispy, has ZERO condiments and comes with just a pickle slice. It’s good but not “wait-in-line-for-it” good, at least to me. I knew this from all the times waited in line for one and came away, “meh.”

Wendy’s fired a salvo in the wars with this tweet: “Y’all out here fighting about which of these fools has the second best chicken sandwich.”

While I absolutely LOVE a Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich, a brand built on burgers can’t claim chicken bragging rights on general principle. That’s like Burger King bragging about their tacos – and yes, you can order tacos at Burger King now, but why would you?

Truth is, I wasn’t surprised Popeyes would smash the chicken sandwich game once they committed to it.  I remember back when Popeyes did breakfast, and I’d hit that Spicy Chicken & Cheese Biscuit (okay, two). That thang was “fy,” and I’d wondered then why Popeyes didn’t have a chicken sandwich. They finally made one, and I made up my mind to try it.

The first time was Friday night. With the family visiting relatives out of town, I figured I’d munch one on my way to a late movie.

If you’ve tried to get a Popeyes Chicken Sandwich lately, you’ve probably seen this “Be Back Soon” sign on the window or drive thru. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

When I got to the drive-thru speaker at the Popeyes in Frayser, I noticed the “Be Back Soon!” sign at the same time the server opened: “Welcome to Popeyes, we’re out of Chicken Sandwiches and Chicken Tenders.”

Dang. “What do you have?” I replied. I ended up with a two-piece white – all they had were breasts, so I got a good deal . . . but I didn’t get a sandwich.  The idea that a chicken joint would run out of chicken never entered my mind. That’s like Memphis running out of Elvis memorabilia – it should never happen.

I remembered wondering how many two-pieces they sold to frustrated customers.  And while I can’t confirm this, I don’t think it’s a co-inky-dink that Popeyes has a chicken shortage just weeks after ICE raided four Mississippi chicken processing plants. Things that make you go hmmmm….

Saturday around noon, I hit the same Popeyes, figuring they’d gotten a shipment overnight or something. No luck. Tried the Popeyes on Union Avenue, which had a line of cars snaking onto the street – but also a “Be Back Soon” sign taped to the door. Determined not to get another two-piece just because it was convenient, I ended up smashing a burger at Five Guys.

After one more try on Monday, I gave up. I’m not about to drive all over the Mid-South looking for a sandwich. Not that that’s something I wouldn’t do, mind you – but even if I lucked into getting my hands on one, there’s no way the sandwich would have lived up to the hassle it took to get it. And I want to like this sandwich.

If there’s one good thing that’s come out of the Chicken Sandwich Wars of 2019, it might be voter awareness. Yes, you read that right. David Ledbetter, 17, saw the long lines at a Charlotte, NC Popeyes as an opportunity to hand out sample ballots and voter registration forms.

“I like engaging with the community and I have aspirations with helping people and making society a better as a whole,” Ledbetter told CNN.

Meanwhile, Popeyes is inviting people to download their app and activate push notifications so you can know when the sandwich is back in stores.

You know, so you can get back in line and wait for it – behind several other cars in a drive-thru.

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