The Popeyes fried chicken sandwich that kicked off last summer’s Great Fried Chicken Sandwich Wars returned on Sunday.
And judging by my experience in getting one, the buzz around the sandwich is back, too.
Popeyes announced the sandwich’s return last week, in time for National Sandwich Day.
On Friday, I stopped by my local Popeyes near Ann Arbor, Mich., just to see if it had arrived early.
The signs were up, but there was no sign of the sandwich.
“Sunday at 10 am sharp,” the counter clerk told me, via the drive-thru intercom. “You better get here early.”
I hadn’t been planning to be there at the opening bell, but I woke up in time, thanks to the end of Daylight Savings Time. So, I bundled my 91-year-old aunt, Maxine Clapper, into my Prius and set off.
The scene. We arrived at 9:50 am to find a knot of people waiting outside the door, and 14 cars in the drive-thru and the parking lot. We were car No. 11 in the drive-thru.
But at 10 am, we were told there was a delay. The restaurant would open at 11 am, despite the instructions we were given and the hours posted on the door .
The delay wasn’t explained, but the restaurant then posted “cash only” signs which made me think it might have been a credit card processing issue.
The wait. We contemplated leaving, but decided to stay. Around us, others stayed, too, including the group at the door. A manager eventually came out and gave those people numbers so they could go wait in their cars in the 37F cold.
As the 10 am hour ticked by, more people arrived. The drive-thru line re-formed, and eventually, it stretched down the side of the restaurant, through the parking lot, past the front of the restaurant and onto the road outside.
I chatted with a couple of customers, and learned they had been unable to get the Popeyes sandwich during its first appearance (I nabbed one just before it sold out).
They were determined to get one this time. And after the restaurant doors finally opened at 11 am, the first customers emerged, holding their Popeyes bags high in victory.
It took us about 25 minutes to get up to the drive-thru window and collect our sandwiches. We pulled into a parking lot space, and opened the bag.
The sandwich. This iteration of the Popeyes fried chicken sandwich seems identical to the previous version. For $3.99, you get a generous portion of fried chicken breast, a dollop of mayo, two pickles and a soft bun.
If anything, the chicken was even more moist than last time, perhaps because it was prepared in the morning rather than afternoon.
And the pickles seemed thicker, almost a little too thick for a sandwich. We both took them off the sandwich and ate them as a side dish.
Since I’d tried it before, I was curious what Maxine thought of it.
She pronounced it “good,” her all-purpose compliment for something she enjoys eating, and said she would have one again if I brought it home to her. (She’s not from the eat-in-your-car generation, which is understandable.)
She was unable to finish her sandwich, which seems a little large for elderly appetites. Popeyes would do just fine if it made a chicken sandwich slider.
The buzz. A huge advantage to this Popeyes launch, of course, is that it took place on Sunday, when its main rival, Chick-fil-A is closed, and something Popeyes touted in its run up to the chicken sandwich’s return.
That Sunday availability is likely to result in a big launch day.
As we drove off, I counted 25 cars waiting in the drive-thru line, and the parking lot was nearly full. I asked the counter clerk how many she thought they would serve, and she estimated it would be more than 100.
Based on the early demand, they most likely sold them all by the end of the lunch hour.
Business may not keep up at that rate, and Popeyes might not get the massive marketing boost that the chicken sandwich generated last time.