The original article was featured in the print edition of San Diego Reader on Sept. 12, 2019.

By: Mike Madriaga
On August 25 at 11 a.m., Cher M. went to Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen on Mira Mesa Blvd. — only to find out that it was closed. “A sign said they were basically sold out of everything,” she said. The 47-year-old hairdresser then hopped back into her car and drove about ten miles south on the I-15 freeway to the Popeyes on Santo Road in Allied Garden — this location was “sold out of everything” and “closed” too.

Owen K. munches on the Popeyes’ spicy three-piece chicken combo every two weeks, but on August 27, he longed for the “highly anticipated chicken sandwich.” When he arrived at the same restaurant Cher was at, he skipped the drive thru that had a line of eight cars, and parked his vehicle. As he approached the red, yellow and brown building, he saw a “letter attached to the front door” saying that “they ran out of chicken sandwiches.”

“I’m very disappointed,” he commented, “but what [are] you gonna do?”

That same Tuesday, the restaurant chain tweeted: “Y’all. We love that you love The Sandwich. Unfortunately we’re sold out (for now).”

On Sept. 1, I went to the Popeyes close to my house in hopes that the sandwiches returned, I saw a sign taped onto the drive-through menu that read “chicken sandwich …. be back soon.” Rather than suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out), I pulled over and checked the local Yelp reviews that pertained to the $3.99 chicken sandwiches that were launched nationwide on August 12 — to see what I was missing out on.

The El Cajon Blvd. location by SDSU, had five reviews about the sandwich: an Elite 2019 reviewer gave them 5 stars and said the sandwich “was huge” and the buns were “nicely toasted on the inside and very soft” and the chicken was “nicely battered (with buttermilk) and very crispy and juicy”; Danny gave them three stars and said he waited 20 minutes and “the sandwich was good”; someone from Oceanside gave them a one-star rating and said: “Don’t waste your time coming here for the new chicken sandwich; management here clearly doesn’t know how to order product to meet demand … guess I’ll just go back to Chick-fil-A.”

There are three Yelp reviews on the E. Plaza Blvd. Popeyes reporting that the sandwiches were sold out on August 24 and 28 — but on August 23, A. Murrah and his son from Chula Vista scored four chicken sandwiches here. “I waited in line for like 45 minutes in the drive-through,” he told me on Sept. 1. “Everyone seemed stressed that worked there, and a bunch of people kept going, then leaving once they saw the inside of the restaurant was full. Then I saw a lady cussing another lady out for blocking the road, while trying to get in line.”

Confrontations were reported at the Palm Avenue location between the 805 and 5 freeways; in the last few days five chicken sandwich customers said they waited over 40 minutes in the drive through. “When I finally get to order,” one customer said, “there was a sign [saying] they are out of fries, honey, chicken sandwiches and something else.” On Sept. 1, I reached out to an employee of the restaurant via direct message; she never replied — so I spoke to an employee at the 7-Eleven next door, and she corroborated about the traffic lining up and boxing some of their patrons in the shared parking lot, and blocking customers coming in from Palm Ave. or Beyer Way. “It got better, though, after they put up the ‘no more chicken sandwich’ signs,” she said.

On August 27, Peter was able to score a chicken sandwich at the Highland Ave. location in National City. “They were able to provide me with the limited edition chicken sandwich,” he captioned on his Yelp photo. “I’m so proud to be part of this historic event.”

The hype began on August 12, when the circa 1972 multinational chain, formerly known as Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits — posted a photo of their chicken sandwich on social media apps. They captioned it: “Chicken. Brioche. Pickles. New. Sandwich. Popeyes. Nationwide. So. Good. Forgot. How. Speak. In. Complete. Sandwiches. I mean, sentences.”

“It then started trending because Popeyes and Chick-fil-A went back and forth on Twitter,” said Murrah — the guy who scored four sandwiches at E. Plaza Blvd. “Then people started making massive amounts of videos and memes comparing the two chicken sandwiches. Then [the masses] started to notice it, got a case of “FOMO” — and it sold out before Popeyes re-upped their supplies.”

Rappers like Snoop Dogg posted photos, videos and memes of chicken sandwiches and the two restaurant chains; one was a photo of a vehicle that crashed inside a Popeyes restaurant, and another was GMACCASH’s rap music video titled “Popeyes or [Chick-fil-A].”

“That song is a parody song,” Murrah said. “It’s kinda hood and it was funny, to me.”

Ray, another Popeyes customer out of Chula Vista saw the video, and “ain’t laughing.”

“The ‘sold out chicken sandwich’ is a gimmick to get people to download the app,” he said. “I wonder how many people downloaded the app after they tweeted.”

On August 27, shortly after their “sold out (for now)” tweet, they tweeted: “Want to be first to know when it’s back? Download the Popeyes app and turn on push notifications.”

Jacob Servin works at the AutoZone Auto Parts store across the street from the Popeyes on Palm Avenue; he said he hasn’t tried the chicken sandwich but said his co-workers rave about them all day. I spoke with him on Sept. 1, and he broke down his analogy of the chicken sandwich chains’ “beef.”

“This is like a retaliation towards Chick-fil-A,” he said. “It’s because of politics, man. Like Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger support our president, so Popeyes came out with their own sandwich, because they are not affiliated with him (President Trump), and they are now going to get all of this traffic. People are quick to follow trends — that’s what I think it (the hype) was.”