The dark truth behind the return of Popeyes chicken sandwich

There are a lot of things in this world that are worth fighting for, but is a chicken sandwich one of them? A lot of people have said "Yes!", and the release (and re-release) of Popeyes' new chicken sandwich has been met with a bizarre number of incidents leading to bruises and bloodshed. 

Yes, over a chicken sandwich. 

Originally, they introduced their chicken sandwich in August, declaring an official shortage on August 27 (via Vox). The sandwich disappeared for about two months, much to Popeyes' fans' chagrin, but it was back on November 3 — conveniently, on National Sandwich Day... and also conveniently, on a Sunday. With rival Chick-fil-A closed, Popeyes took the opportunity to take a few jabs at the other big chicken chain.  Meanwhile, their customers started taking very literal jabs at each other. 

The almost surrealness of the Popeyes' chicken sandwich craze seems to make it clear that there are two different kinds of people in this world: there are the ones watching the news in a mixture of shock, awe, and sadness, and there are the ones doing, well, this stuff.

Popeyes' chicken sandwich has turned deadly

When Popeyes released their chicken sandwich, the world went crazy. They sold out, and the world went crazier still. 

Shockingly, there was still just one more step to go down the road to complete chaos. When Popeyes re-released their sandwiches, people were just as excited. Some restaurants established sandwich-only lines for customers, and that's where things turned deadly in one Prince George County Popeyes in Maryland. 

One customer, Kevin Tyrell Davis, was seen walking into Popeyes and cutting through the chicken sandwich line. He was confronted by another customer, and according to CNN, that's when surveillance footage showed the two leaving the store. They left the restaurant, Davis was stabbed seconds later, and was later pronounced dead at the hospital. 

Popeyes released a statement about the incident, saying: "We do not yet know whether this was the result of a dispute over one of our products or something unrelated, but there is no reason for someone to lose their life on a Monday night in a parking lot." 

In spite of Popeyes' uncertainty over whether or not a chicken sandwich was to blame for this tragic incident, Business Insider later reported that police had confirmed that the dispute was, indeed, sandwich-related. Authorities released security footage of the suspect, and appealed for any help in bringing him to justice.

The woman who destroyed her car for a Popeyes chicken sandwich

It was The Daily Mail who picked up on a video posted to social media that was the very definition of astounding. It was filmed at a California Popeyes, and showed a woman in a silver Mercedes trying to force her way into the drive-thru lane — presumable to get her hands on Popeyes' famous chicken sandwich. In doing so, she not only tried to cut off another customer, but scraped the side of her car — repeatedly — against a concrete post put there to stop precisely that sort of thing. After pulling forward and backing up again and again, tearing up the side of her car, she hits the other car already in the drive-thru lane. 

Finally, an employee comes out of the store and tells her that she's not allowed to order at all, because of her behavior. It doesn't go over well, and she bizarrely keeps rubbing her car against the post, doing more and more damage to it. Why? No one gathered at the scene seemed to know, but they were more than happy to watch.

The gathering crowd is equal parts amused and amazed, and at the very end of the video, one person can be heard summing it up best with an incredulous, "And all for a chicken sandwich."

The literal fight for Popeyes' chicken sandwiches

Start searching social media for Popeyes' chicken sandwich, and there's a disturbing trend that pops up: fights breaking out in Popeyes restaurants across the country. 

Take the video posted to Facebook by Kenyan K. Southers. At a glance, it's an angry customer hopping the counter at Popeyes to take a few swings at a manager. But listen to what's going on, and you'll hear the manager tell a female customer she was "stupid" and an "animal." That's when the man with her jumped the counter and started brawling. Southers says (via Fox) that he spoke with the manager afterward, and told him, "...it's not the people, it's you, you gotta change the way you talk to people." The manager responded that he'd had a rough day. 

Another video posted to YouTube shows a brawl in a drive-thru at a Florida Popeyes, where one man jumps out of his truck and starts swinging at another. It's largely bleeped out, but there's no doubts about what's going on. Twitter is filled with videos of angry customers, too, threatening employees, leaning over counters, and shouting about how badly they want their chicken sandwiches.

It's just continued the Popeyes chicken sandwich chaos

The truly bizarre thing is that the rash of violence that broke out around the November return of the Popeyes chicken sandwich was nothing new — the nation had already experienced it in August, when the sandwich first debuted then ran out. 

There were fights, like the one reported on by MTO News. That one happened in Brooklyn, and it broke out when a customer reportedly waited for an hour for a sandwich and — after paying for it — was told there were no more. That's when she went after an employee, one left with injuries after the fight. 

It wasn't an isolated incident, not by far. In Houston, a group initially went through the drive-thru, and were told that the location was out of chicken sandwiches. That's when one man pulled out a gun. The group then abandoned a baby in the vehicle, tried to force their way into the restaurant, and police were called. According to ABC, the group was gone by the time police got to the scene, but the man with the gun was identified and charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

Popeyes got sued over their chicken sandwich

There are a lot of people out there who really, really wanted to try one of Popeyes' new chicken sandwiches. Some made it clear they would go to extreme lengths to get one, and that includes Craig Barr. How extreme was he? When he couldn't get one, he took them to court. 

According to NBC News, the story is — unsurprisingly — a weird one. Barr filed a lawsuit in Tennessee's Hamilton County General Sessions Court in August 2019, and he claimed "deceptive business practices by entity to public" and "false advertising." Don't worry, it gets weirder. 

Barr sued for $5,000, and here's what he says. First, he was "hustled out of $25" when he got in touch with a man through Craigslist, who claimed he had access to the elusive sandwich. Then, Barr (who owns a small automotive business, the Times Free Press notes) says he spent so much time driving from one Popeyes location to another to try to find a sandwich that he did $1,500 damage to his car. The rest? Damages for the emotional distress he suffered when his friends laughed at him. 

Barr claimed that Popeyes deliberately built up hype about their product then failed to deliver, and he took them to court. He represented himself and said he was willing to settle because, "I mean, what are you going to do, you know?"

The chicken sandwich has been horrible for Popeyes' employees

Popeyes' employees haven't had an easy few months. In late August, Vox talked to some employees that were on the front lines of the chicken sandwich craze, and things were dire. Manager Wanda Lavender described some of the things she and her staff had faced: customers had threatened to shoot them all, they were working 10- to 12-hour shifts with no breaks, and her legs had gone numb from being on her feet for so long. Lines were out the door, there was no end in sight, and when some employees started quitting, that just made her day more chaotic and even longer. 

She said, "When we had the sandwich in stock, it was fine. It was when we ran out that people got angry. ... We are busting our butts and breaking our backs and someone threatens to shoot us because we ran out of something. ... And all over some sandwich." 

Los Angeleno talked to a slew of employees who were working through the craze, and they all told similar stories. Endless lines and endless anger, customers ordering sandwiches by the dozen, and getting mad about the wait. 

Business Insider has warned that even though there had been no employee fatalities (as of the time of writing), fast food workers were in ever-increasing danger. In 2017, 29 fast food workers had been murdered while working, and say they're in a particularly precarious position that puts them at risk of "spillover violence."

Those Popeyes' employees are being turned into social media fodder

When Los Angeleno started talking to Popeyes workers caught in the middle of this chicken sandwich craze, they found something heartbreaking. Not only were managers working 70- to 80-hour work weeks, but covering for employees who had quit. To add insult to injury, these managers were, for the most part salaried. And that meant they weren't going to be getting any extra pay for working all those long, tense, hectic hours. 

It's not surprising that employees have been worked to exhaustion, but that's led to the development of another worrying trend, says Vice — taking photos of tired Popeyes employees and turning them into memes

That, they say, is a pretty horrible thing to do. Laughing at overwhelmed workers who are already overworked and on the receiving end of a lot of customers' anger is pretty low, and some have suggested taking the chicken sandwich craze and doing something good with it instead — raising awareness about the need for a living wage and safe working conditions for fast food employees. Will it happen? Time will tell.

It's about more than just a Popeyes' chicken sandwich

There's a common thread that's been repeated by the incredulous part of the population, and that's the astonishment that all this is happening over a chicken sandwich.So, what gives?

Rolling Stone took a look at the inner workings of the phenomenon, and noted that this wasn't the first time we've seen fast food-related chaos. KFC's Double Down and McDonald's McRib both had the same sort of viral marketing that Popeyes' chicken sandwich did, and they also suggest there's a few things at work here. One is that fast food is the only "monoculture" we have as a nation, and the chaos is fueled by a desire to be a part of that. The other, more disturbing idea is that it's encouraging racism and elitism, cementing Popeyes' relationship with a sucker-punch throwing, gun-toting sort of person — the same way PSLs had been associated with a certain sort of Ugg-boot-wearing young woman. 

The Good Men Project points out something else — this isn't the desperate chaos of people who are starving and fighting for food. This is people fighting over a chicken sandwich so they can say they were there and they tried it. They described it as a sort of status symbol that was low-cost enough that everyone could have a shot at it, and everyone tried to take it.

Popeyes has been pretty mum on the chicken sandwich situation

So, what has Popeyes' said about what's been going on around their chicken sandwich? Not a heck of a lot. 

They brought back their chicken sandwich on Sunday, November 3, and by the time Wednesday rolled around it was pretty clear how things were going to be going. That's when, according to Fox, they issued their official statement:

"The Chicken Sandwich came back on Sunday and will be available for the long term. We love our fans and know they love us — we're asking everyone to share that love with each other and be understanding as the team works hard to get the sandwich back in every one of our guests' hands." 

Surprised? Some in the media were, but PR Experts from Ericho Communications say that's precisely the response they should give, and stress that the chaos isn't a reflection on Popeyes, but on "poor decision making by specific Popeyes customers."

There were delays and sellouts even on the re-release of Popeyes' chicken sandwich

When Popeyes announced the chicken sandwich was definitely coming back, CNN reported Bruno Cardinali, head of marketing, had this to say: "We are confident that we'll be able to meet the demand."

They had hired more staff, and reinforced supply lines for all the ingredients that went into the sandwich. They were surprised by the demand for the sandwich originally, caught off-guard by the chaos. But they learned, right?

Right?

Just days after the relaunch, Bloomberg was reporting that stores across the country were selling out of chicken sandwiches again. They suggested there were still supply chain issues happening behind the scenes, and restaurants just couldn't keep up with the demand once again... leading to more violent outbursts from angry customers. 

Fast Company gets into more specifics, saying that around 400 new employees were hired in the weeks leading up to the relaunch. But there were still massive delays, with some customers coming in to grab a sandwich in the hours of the late morning, and ending up not getting one until dinnertime. They, too, had been told by Popeyes that there was nothing to worry about, the supply would be there to meet the demand, but once again, it wasn't.

It's not even the same Popeyes chicken sandwich, some say

Here's the final insult to injury: customers who had the chicken sandwich both during the original release and during the second one say they're just not the same... even though Popeyes says they are. 

Business Insider had tried the first sandwich, and called it "a true revelation." But when they saw people tweeting that their sandwiches had seemed smaller than the original, they had to investigate. And even though Popeyes has been mum on the whole thing, they noticed a discrepancy — the original sandwich was a whopping 690 calories, while the relaunched sandwich was, according to menu boards, 660 calories. 

Whaaaaat?

Some have said the second sandwich — while still good — just doesn't hold together like the original. The pickles were different (maybe?) and there was less mayo. Maybe. Popeyes did confirm that nothing had changed, so what's the deal? Are rushed and overworked employees finally hitting exhaustion levels? Is it a variation in stores? Popeyes isn't saying.