By now, no doubt, you’ve heard about #Popeyesgate — the national-news saga of Long Beach’s own Sweet Dixie Kitchen, a brunchy corner bakery with a history of claiming “everything is made in-house” that went viral last week for admitting that it proudly buys its fried chicken from the Popeyes on 10th Street and Long Beach Boulevard every morning and reheats it for use in several dishes throughout the day.
The story blew up after owner Kim Sanchez responded to a negative Yelp review that tried to call out the restaurant for its use of the Louisiana-based company’s signature product in her chicken and waffles and “Chicken BiscuitWich.”
“It has always been our goal to feature local food and guest chefs here, we promote usually small batch local producers on our menu,” she said in her defense, after listing off some of her other vendors, some local others not. “The exception is Popeyes…the fried chicken I love so much and ate a ton of in the ATL.”
Besides the dishonesty factor of a restaurant claiming everything is scratch-made buying pre-fried chicken tenders through a drive through (and the added offense that it’s a business with an Antebellum-referencing name marking up working-class Southern food), there’s the upsetting disregard for Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken, a locally owned fried chicken chain that is far more beloved than Popeyes.
Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken opened its first location in South L.A. in 1976 and now has 148 locations across seven states and three countries. Most of the stores are owned by Cambodians, who bought franchises as refugees in the ’80s and ’90s and struggled for survival alongside the communities they served.
Long Beach is currently home to five locations, at least four of which supplement their potential customer base by serving better-than-Popeyes chicken alongside everything from doughnuts to Chinese food.
Perhaps #Popeyesgate could have been avoided if Sanchez bothered to hit up the Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken in the Westside on Santa Fe Avenue, which makes the juiciest chicken tenders of all five. This location shares a repurposed burger stand with its sister business, Sam’s Donuts, making its menu — fresh hot crullers from the window case, 75-cent egg rolls and fried chicken combos that can feed large families for under $20 — a masterclass in Southern California culture.
Because the doughnut shop side does more business throughout the day, I have a theory that the fryers here get less use, making the chicken juicier and the flavor and spice of the company’s proprietary herb-flecked flour coating pop just that much more. This location also doesn’t bother with promising home-made biscuits; all meals come with a doughy store-bought dinner roll.
In North Long Beach, on the outer rim of the Carmelitos Housing Project, lies another Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken, this one not half doughnut shop, but half Chinese fast food restaurant (with a catering business on the side). Under the bright red glare of heat lamps, about 16 dishes are warmed each day, from the typical orange chicken and beef broccoli to the locally serving lemon pepper wings and potatoes and chicken, all of which are available in cheap combo plates with chow mien and fried rice.
This double-dip concept can also be found at another North Long Beach Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken, inside a purple and orange structure a few blocks from Sal’s Gumbo Shack. This one seems to sell more Chinese food than fried chicken and on several visits, the breasts and thighs came out greasy and extra crunchy, like they’d been left in the oil a few minutes too long.
But even if the fried chicken mash-up brilliance spurred by Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken’s loose franchise deals didn’t appeal to Sanchez’ Popeyes-seeking sensibilities (the fifth location has a fish market inside), at the very least, the Southern purist should have stopped by the Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken on the corner of 7th Street and Junipero Avenue. It’s the only location in Long Beach that devotes itself entirely to the brand’s namesake product. It’s also the only one that operates out of a former Popeyes.
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.