They started a 15-minute war.
Kl. 1:43 p.m. August 19, Bruno Cardinali got marketing manager for Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen, a colleague's WhatsApp message: That morning, one of Popeye's fast-food rivals, Chick-fil-A, tweeted what appeared to be a thinly veiled criticism of the new fried chicken that Popeyes had begun to offer nationwide a few days earlier.
"It was the 15 minute turnaround that released the tweet that triggered the whole thing," Cardinali said. "And at that moment we backed off."
What triggered the tweet was the "chicken sandwich wars," a viral debate on social media that has gripped the internet for the past week and a half. Popeyes, Chick-fil-A and other fast food brands traded moles on Twitter, arguing whose sandwich tasted best. As sandwiches spread, customers flocked to Popeye's restaurants across the country, forcing employees to work overtime as a location after the place was sold out from the sandwiches.
As the chain's sandwich supply rapidly declined, top Popeyes executives working behind the scenes in Miami were magnificent: A two-person tweet had made the chicken sandwich rollout the most successful product launch in the company's history. But the success of the sandwich also created a logistical headache.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Popeyes announced that the chicken sandwich inventory was exhausted: Currently, the chain said, stores would have to stop offering sandwiches, which sold for $ 3.99. (Popeye's refused to reveal how many sandwiches it had sold over the past year and a half.)
“We had very aggressively predicted demand, and we thought we would have no problems at all , at least until the end of September, "said Felipe Athayde Popeye's president of the United States market. "And then it goes on for two weeks, and we're out of the product at the national level."
All last week, Mr. Athayde had field calls and emails about the shortage. But it wasn't until Friday night that he made a decision. The chain's top management had gathered in a meeting room on the fifth floor. Some officials were on laptops, while others examined printed spreadsheets showing the sale of sandwiches across the country.
"Guys, look," Athayde told the group. "I think we have to beat the brakes."
Finally, the decision came to simple math, Athayde said in an interview this week . With 2400 locations, Popeye's is one of the largest fried chicken in the United States. But it did not have enough chicken to continue making the sandwiches.
"We made a decision to stop, but technically it was not a decision," Athayde said. “We came to a halt. There was no alternative. "
In the coming months, the chain plans to recruit new chicken suppliers to secure larger quantities of the special cut breast meat used in the sandwiches," said 1945 1945 president Amy Alarcon vice president of global culinary innovation at Popeyes. (A company spokeswoman would not reveal the names of any of its suppliers.)
On Saturday, Mr. Athayde hosted a webcast at Popeye's Hundreds of Hundreds of Series throughout the United States where company executives described the plan to halt chicken sandwich sales. During the conversation, they emphasized that the sandwich launch had been a historic moment for Popeyes. But in the end, the officials acknowledged, the chain simply ran out of chicken breast.
Now the plan is to come back "full throttle," Athayde said in the interview.
Popeyes has not set a date for the return of the product, but preparations have already begun on some franchisees. Joe Haberkorn who owns six Popeyes stores in the Chicago area, said he planned to install new sandwich stations at his restaurants.
"We order extra toasters," Haberkorn said. "We're going to hit it in high gear when they come back."
But there are already signs that consumers are moving on to other viral chicken products. About five hours on Tuesday, one of Popeye's rivals, KFC, sold the entire test supply of a new plant-based fried chicken at a branch in Atlanta.
For Popeyes employees, the suspension of chicken sandwich sales signaled an end to a chaotic week of overtime change and sometimes hostile interactions with impatient customers.
Brian Smith, a franchisee who operates 11 Popeye's locations in the Midwest, said last week he sold 1,200 sandwiches a day at his restaurant in Appleton, Wis. It came as a relief that his overworked staff did not quit the place, he said.
It was so stressful, ”Smith said. “I'm surprised that the team members stayed. It was certainly just chaos. ”
At a Popeyes in Affton, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, store managers arranged several employees to work certain shifts, according to Eric Janis 19, chef at the restaurant. Last week, Janis said, impatient customers who waited in line for the chicken sandwiches yelled at store employees to hurry.
"Every day they cried for how long it takes," he said. "It was constantly complaining."
The wait will now be much longer. At lunchtime Wednesday, Popeyes on Brooklyn Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant was quiet. A message written in black Sharpie on a cardboard sign hanging from the menu board gave a hint as to why the lines had disappeared.
"Sorry for the inconvenience," it said. "We ran out of sandwiches."