Opinion Columns & Blogs

Is it just a chicken sandwich? No, it’s a metaphor for our life and times

Customer traffic was heavy at Popeyes on Windy Hill Road in Cobb County as folks ached to get the new chicken sandwich.
Customer traffic was heavy at Popeyes on Windy Hill Road in Cobb County as folks ached to get the new chicken sandwich. Correspondent

We’re in the middle of a fight that wasn’t expected. Fueled by media that caters to click-bait stories, social media warriors were quick to choose sides and take up arms. The physical battleground was well represented at high noon Sunday in Cobb County on Windy Hill Road, just down from the Braves new stadium off an exit from Imterstate 75.

A Popeyes chicken restaurant was in gridlock. It was difficult to tell where the drive through line began or ended. The parking lot was full. A bank separating the two combatants handled a bit of overflow parking.

Chick-fil-A stood quiet, closed as is tradition on Sundays. The sign however, told the story. “FYI We don’t’ run out of chicken sandwiches.”

A customer coming out of the Popeyes looked at me taking a picture of the scene and began chuckling through his exasperation. “They won’t have more chicken sandwiches available until after 2 p.m. I’ve been trying to get one of those things for four days!”

This was bound to happen. Chick-fil-A is one of the nation’s fastest growing restaurant brands, having recently become the third largest by sales in the country. Others have taken notice, with Popeye’s now moving into the sandwich business and McDonald’s franchisees having openly called for a Chick-fil-A competitor in June.

With Popeyes apparently getting the product right (I, like the gentleman I met in the bank parking lot, have yet to muster the patience to procure one), they’re now learning that there’s more to Chick-fil-A than a chicken breast on a buttered bun with pickles. There’s a supply chain, and there’s a human element that no restaurant brand has come close to matching.

It will be interesting to see if Popeyes can maintain the enthusiasm once their offering becomes a daily routine. Others will be looking to see if Chick-fil-A maintains its market share, or if others can take a bite out of the brand’s growth with their new offerings. With Chick-fil-A headquartered in Georgia, and Georgia being the largest producer of chicken in the country, we have a vested interest in the outcome.

I don’t know what the kids today will tell their grandchildren about the great chicken sandwich wars of 2019, but I will offer that it offers a glimpse into the state of current discourse. The steps are generally the same:

1. A relatively inconsequential topic “goes viral.”

2. Opportunists graft onto the popularity to use it as a vehicle for their own cause.

3. People quickly choose sides appropriating their views as good and wholesome while the other must be rejected and the personification of evil.

It’s been interesting to see social media warriors use fried chicken sandwiches as their vehicle of virtue, but it’s not really a new phenomenon. Some view eating at Chick-fil-A as their midweek communion, while others project their own intolerance onto the chain.

As the Popeyes side of the story began to build, some began to chide those fighting for sandwiches for not putting the same enthusiasm into voting. These are the kinds of people that fail to recognize that a hot chicken sandwich from either chain would likely win a contest over the diet of politics and politicians we are offered from both parties. They’re also probably really annoying to have lunch with.

For a resolution to the chicken wars, I’ll offer a memory from Chick-fil-A’s founder, Truett Cathy, that is three to four decades old. I recall him speaking of someone once apologizing to him for eating at KFC, which was the major if not only national fried chicken chain at the time. He told them not to worry about it, as even his family occasionally needed somewhere to eat on Sunday. Besides, he said, if you want to pay for bones instead of chicken…

KFC didn’t need to fail for Chick-fil-A to succeed, and neither does Popeyes. Mr. Cathy would just want you to vote early, and vote often. Georgia’s chicken producers would say “my pleasure” at the opportunity to keep the contest going.

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