New Orleans, Louisiana, is one of not just America's but the world's great food cities. This is due in no small measure to it being a port city. Its having been under so many nations' flags - France, Spain, Britain and America - with those nations' people, and visiting sailors from other lands liking what they saw and eventually going back to stay, gave it an international flavor that nothing could destroy. Through plagues, wars, and hurricanes, New Orleans has survived. And its culinary tradition has led to franchising of the styles within.
After Kentucky Fried Chicken, the second-largest fast-food chicken company is Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. It first opened under the name of "Popeyes Mighty Good Fried Chicken" in Arabi, Louisiana, a New Orleans suburb, in 1972. Al Copeland, a high school dropout from New Orleans, worked for his brother Gil, who was a part-owner of a chain called Tastee Donut. Al sold his car to buy one of Gi'ls stores, and he was on his way.
Copeland started by selling traditional fried chicken, but it proved to be too mild for New Orleanians' tastes. So he made his chicken spicier, adding Cajun-style gravy and Cajun-style rice, and by 1976 he was able to start franchising. He hired New Orleans-based musician Malcolm John "Dr. John" Rebennack to sing his commercial jingles, which made the chain particularly popular in its home region.
Copeland claimed he named his chicken chain after not the cartoon character Popeye the Sailor Man, but Popeye Doyle, the fictional New York detective from "The French Connection," a film that was popular shortly before the chicken chain was founded. Eventually, Copeland's success allowed him to purchase the rights to use the more familiar cartoon character in his commercials. Ironically, while Popeyes' side items include mashed potatoes, cole slaw, biscuits, green beans, Cajun rice, applesauce, and red beans & rice, they do not include the food item that gives Popeye the Sailor Man his strength: Spinach.
In 1983, he founded Copeland's of New Orleans, a casual dining chain rather than a fast-food one. Copeland's tries a little of everything: Appetizers, soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, steaks, pasta, fish, desserts, and specialty lunch and brunch menus.
In 1989, Popeyes bought Church's Chicken, which was originally Texas-style rather than Louisiana-style, but kept the name on Church's outlets. The deal ruined Copeland financially, and he was forced to sell Popeyes to America's Favorite Chicken Company, Inc. AFC sold Church's in 2004, but retains Popeyes. Copeland was able to keep the rights to some Popeyes recipes, and died of cancer in 2008, at the age of 64. His son, Al Copeland Jr., runs Copeland's of New Orleans today.
Although Italy was not one of the nations that ever ruled New Orleans - the city had been American for generations when the city-states of Italy were unified in 1870 - there is a restaurant chain that seeks to merge the two places' styles. Two Boots is named for the shapes of Italy (with the "toe" of the "boot" pointing left) and Louisiana (with the toe pointing right). Doris Karnish and Phil Hartman (not the "Saturday Night Live" actor, although he and Karnish made independent films together) opened their first store on New York's Lower East Side in 1987, defying the neighborhood's infamous crime.
Two Boots took off, as people looking for cheap and quick food, especially late at night, flocked to its edgy locations. By 2000, when the New York Police Department's anti-crime efforts had revitalized the Lower East Side and many other neighborhoods, Two Boots reaped the benefits, and was able to move into more high-profile Manhattan locations such as the food concourses at Grand Central Terminal and Rockefeller Center. They have since expanded to New Jersey, Connecticut, Baltimore and Los Angeles. Their combinations of Italian pizzas and calzones, and New Orleans poorboy sandwiches keep their profits rising.
The poorboy, or "po' boy," is the Crescent City's version of the submarine or hero sandwich. The name has been given to Po' Boys Creole Café, which was founded in 1992 at the other end of the Gulf of Mexico, in Tallahassee, Florida. Their locations are all in the Tallahassee area, but they go all out to fit the New Orleans theme, serving not only their namesake sandwich but also gumbo, jambalaya and crawfish. As many other restaurant chains began as college-area places - Tallahassee is home to both Florida State and Florida A&M universities - Po' Boys could be one to watch.