McALLEN — For years, dozens of chicken joints across Hidalgo County have served residents’ appetites for crispy and flavorful breasts, thighs, legs — and even a few gizzards.
But by lunch and dinner time Thursday, an old favorite was back, ready to tend to the flock.
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in McAllen opened this week at 400 E. Nolana, transforming what had been a dilapidated shell that once housed a Carls Jr. into the hottest coop in town.
“I’ve always been a Popeyes fan and I’m glad to have them back in the Valley,” said McAllen resident Daryl Miller, who learned of the opening from a friend at church.
Chicken lovers flocked to Popeyes, where lines spilled onto Nolana — tying up traffic — and stretched deep inside the restaurant, which serves that familiar fried chicken with a Louisiana flair.
Unlike other nearby cities along the Texas-Mexico border, including Reynosa and Laredo, the Rio Grande Valley has been devoid of Popeyes’ fried chicken, seafood and red beans with rice since 2007.
All at once, on a fateful January day, all 10 locations in the Valley shuttered their doors, with six that reopened as Church’s Chicken outlets.
Popeyes sued Church’s, saying the company schemed to break a franchise agreement that prevented the sale of Popeyes locations.
Popeyes vowed it would return to the Valley soon, after it lost its entire market share in a region where fast food consumption is among the highest in the country.
Church’s still rules the roost locally, with 26 locations across Hidalgo County. Kentucky Fried Chicken has five locations, and regional player Golden Chick has two spots in western Hidalgo County.
Another Popeyes location at 1607 E. Expressway 83 in San Juan is set to open in the coming days.
Judging by how busy the restaurant was, local chicken lovers were glad to have another option. Beyond crispy chicken, Popeyes features Louisiana specialties, including seafood and red beans and rice.
Pharr resident Marissa Acevedo said had been excited for the restaurant to open after seeing construction progressing at the San Juan location.
Acevedo came with her mother and niece once she heard the McAllen location was open. She missed being able to stop in at the franchise locally for six years.
For her, the long line was worth the wait.
“We’ve been seeing the commercials so we’ve been waiting and Googling it,” Acevedo said.
Humberto Marrero, who manages the McAllen location, said he wasn’t expecting so many people after the restaurant’s soft opening. Franchise owners had expected the San Juan location to open first, but had a problem with the phone line and worked to open the McAllen restaurant instead.
“People were craving Popeyes,” he said.
Gail Burkhardt covers Mission, western Hidalgo County, Starr County and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at email@example.com and (956) 683-4462.