How Spice Mix May Have Saved Popeyes

It's hard to imagine Popeyes chicken or french fries without their signature seasoning, but back in 1972, it didn't even exist (via Popeyes). When Popeyes founder Alvin C. Copeland Sr. opened the first Popeyes location in Arabi, just outside of New Orleans, it wasn't even called Popeyes, but rather "Chicken on the Run." Though Copeland's fast-food restaurant did serve fried chicken, it was distinctly different from the kind we see on the menu today. And unfortunately, it wasn't tasty enough to bring in many customers, even after several months of being in business. 

Chicken on the Run saw so few sales that Copeland saw no other option but to revamp his recipe and remarket his brand. In the same year, Copeland would reopen Chicken on the Run, this time as "Popeyes," a name that was inspired by fictional character Popeye Doyle from "The French Connection." Instead of traditional Southern-fried chicken, Copeland began selling New Orleans-style fried chicken featuring the spice mix that's now a Popeyes staple.

Popeyes' spice mix is a trade secret

Despite the fact that Popeyes is well-known for its seasoning, Copeland's friends had serious doubts about whether it would sell. According to Fox Business, Copeland's friends had actually encouraged him to tone down the amount of pepper, a misguided decision that cost him $13,000.

Considering Copeland's customers ended up preferring the peppery seasoning, it comes as no surprise that now the recipe is under lock and key. Though Popeyes won't reveal the complete list of ingredients, they do describe it as a "signature blend of Louisiana seasoning for flavor as lively as any party in New Orleans," and explained that the chicken gets marinated in it for 12 hours. The Cajun Sparkle seasoning that was added to the menu in 2019, however, is not quite as much of a secret (via Elite Daily). Popeyes shared that it contains garlic, onion, red pepper, and black pepper. If you're looking to create your own Popeyes chicken at home, it seems the closest you'll get to the actual recipe is a copycat version of Cajun Sparkle.