As the chain's die-hard fans already know, several great things happened at Popeyes this year. From a new superstar sandwich to other upgrades that shook up the classic fried chicken menu, there was a lot to try at the beloved chain.
But the company made several major moves outside the menu as well—setting its sights on new territories and onboarding a very unique franchisee. Then there were the losses, too, ones that were mourned by fans across the nation.
Here are the major headlines that came out of Popeyes this year. And for more, check out 10 Major Changes McDonald's Made in 2021.
Launched a stellar fish sandwich
When it comes to sandwiches with fried stuff, Popeyes can do no wrong. The chain's chicken sandwich was legendary long before bigger competitors even attempted copying its success. And this year, the chain launched its first-ever fish sandwich which lived up to the same high standard. The Cajun Flounder Sandwich came out just in time for Lent and was quickly crowned the best of the fast-food fish sandwiches, with one food critic writing that it was "the rare fish sandwich that actually tastes like something."
While you won't currently find it on the menu, it's very likely to make another limited-time appearance during 2022's Lenten season.
Made several changes to its side dishes
Popeyes rejigged its side dishes offer this year, but what it added wasn't nearly as headline-making as what it decided to cut. The chain confirmed the departure of two long-standing classics—the Cajun Rice and the green beans—from the menu in January, and fans couldn't get over the loss of their beloved rice dish. In fact, complaints kept trickling in on Twitter even months later, with one person encapsulating the sentiment perfectly by saying "I don't think I'll ever get over Popeyes taking the cajun rice away."
However, the chain did add the previously tested Homestyle Mac and Cheese to the menu recently, which is a pretty good consolation prize if you ask us.
Finally added chicken nuggets to the permanent menu
It may seem strange in hindsight, but Popeyes didn't have chicken nuggets on the menu before this summer. As experts in all things chicken, the chain was set up for success when launching this simple but ubiquitous menu addition. And success they found. According to the company execs, the nuggets have attracted a new demographic to the chain—kids and families. While it'll be really hard for any item to beat the initial success of the chicken sandwich, Popeyes simply had to fill that nugget-shaped void in its menu to truly be complete.
Came out with its first celeb collaboration
In October, Popeyes joined the ranks of McDonald's and other greats that draw upon celeb star power to sell menu items. Its collaboration with superstar rapper Megan Thee Stallion gave the world the Hottie Sauce, a new dipping sauce that's a spicy mix of honey, cider vinegar, and Aleppo pepper. But the partnership didn't end there—the musician also became the chain's business partner when she signed on to open some of her own Popeyes restaurants as a franchisee.
Rolled out its first loyalty program
Another first the chain took on this year? A brand new loyalty program. Popeyes Rewards was rolled out nationwide in June, finally giving fans a chance to earn points every time they place an order. It can be accessed on the chain's website or phone app and will reward you with 10 points for every dollar spent, which can then be exchanged for free menu items. Plus, there is a range of other benefits for members, like exclusive access to deals and products, as well as one-time freebies when you first sign up.
Embarked on a major international expansion
"I see London, I see France," could have very well been uttered at one of Popeyes' board meetings this year, as the chain embarked on a major international expansion that includes inaugural locations in both European territories. Its first location in the U.K. opened in East London in November, while the French will have to wait to taste the fried chicken delicacies until sometime next year. Other countries that will be getting new Popeyes restaurants soon include Romania, Saudi Arabia, India, and Mexico.
The chain currently operates 3,600 restaurants in over 25 countries, including European markets like Spain, Switzerland, and Turkey.
Lost the last buffet location in existence
And while expanding abroad, the chain said goodbye to one very special domestic location this year: its last buffet. In case you missed it, Popeyes had operated all-you-can-eat buffets filled with fried chicken, biscuits, and mac and cheese at some of its stores over the years. But a location in Lafayette, La. was the last remaining location to do so until it too dropped the rare buffet feature this year. According to Eater, the buffet was somewhat of a hometown celebrity and was covered in the local media often. It cost less than $10 to eat as much fried chicken and sides as you possibly can—something even the late Anthony Bourdain enjoyed when shooting an episode of his TV show Parts Unknown in town. But the pandemic wasn't kind to buffet-type food businesses, and this restaurant simply didn't bring the buffet back after temporarily doing away with it in 2020.
For more, check out the 108 Most Popular Sodas Ranked By How Toxic They Are.