This week, hotly anticipated fast food import and U.S. fried chicken juggernaut Popeyes made its London debut at its shiny new flagship restaurant at the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford.
Popeyes’s arrival in London comes — quite hilariously — at the expense of that old timer fried chicken chain KFC; it sits opposite a McDonald’s on the ground floor of the east London shopping centre. And because global food brands are mercilessly exploiting opportunities in the post-Brexit, post-lockdown London restaurant dystopia, Popeyes will be neighbours with another American fast food behemoth as Wendy’s nestled in to Westfield when making its U.K. return in August this year.
Rivalling Shake Shack’s debut in 2013 and more recently that of Jollibee in 2018, Popeyes’s fried chicken sandwich has been steadily dialling up the hypeometer since first announcing the London opening in March this year — this restaurant apparently the first of 350 sites across the country in the coming years.
Though Popeyes was founded in New Orleans in 1972, it is in recent years — most notably the high-profile online chicken sandwich “wars” of 2019 — that it reached the globally recognised status needed to make such an ambitious expansion drive feasible. But Popeyes success as a food business cannot exist outside of a conversation about the wider economics and often questionable labour practices, low wages, and ingredient sourcing employed by fast food brands. Nor can its success be fully understood without first placing it in the context of the racial history of fried chicken in America.
Workers at both chicken plants and the fast food restaurants those who bear the greatest cost of the brand’s success — the demands placed on staff at a hyped launch like that in London are not commensurate with the compensation offered to them. And yet, low costs mean low prices for food very deliberately designed to appeal to a majority, so often those economically and socially excluded from many other areas of restaurant culture.
Based on the reception this week, the consensus from the hypebeasts appears to be that the chicken is good and that the sandwich is better. While the marketing probably beats the lot. The result of which meant that, as predicted, the crowds came out with Eater there for a first look on the day that Popeyes opened to the public in London.
Here’s what that looked like.