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Published: Tuesday, 8/3/2004

Crowds for Popeye's debut true to city tradition

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

"It's typical, especially for a store that recently opened, to do well, but this applies even more so in Toledo," said Liz Woodall, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Popeye's. "Their grand opening week [in Toledo] broke all of Popeye's records for a franchise."

It is evidence of how Toledoans have developed a reputation for practically loving new restaurants to death. It may stem from the town's penchant for eating out, which studies have shown is the case.

"I've heard that about Toledo," said John Brodersen, a Milwaukee restaurateur who owns the Popeye's in Toledo, as well as several others in Detroit and Milwaukee.

"I heard that White Castle opened big there and the first couple of Church's [Fried Chicken restaurants] also opened big before both leveled off."

"Everyone here typically does well the first six months," said Tommy Pipatjarasgit, president of Magic Wok Enterprises Inc. and a former head of the Northwest Ohio Restaurant Association. "If you're good, if you can execute with good food, good service, then they'll be back."

Others getting royal treatment locally include new competitors Smokey Bones BBQ, a national chain that recently opened in Maumee, and Shorty's Bar-b-cue, which is owned by Mancy's Inc. and opened in Toledo.

Paul Hubbard, owner of the three Church's Chicken restaurants in Toledo, said that when his stores opened the lines were so long it made national news. His stores continue to be ranked among Church's top 20 franchises in weekly sales.

"Toledo is known as a restaurant city. Even in Detroit people refer to Toledo as a restaurant city and when you get something like Popeye's coming in, people want to try something new," Mr. Hubbard said.

"Almost any new restaurant in any new city will almost do more than 100 per cent more than they'll do any month later. Whether they come back will depend on price, service to customers, and other things."

Mr. Brodersen said he studied Toledo closely before buying the Popeye's franchise rights for the area, and found that residents were driving to a truck stop in Monroe to buy Popeye's food. He may open more local stores by next year.

Similarly, Mr. Hubbard said his research found Toledoans driving to Detroit to buy Church's chicken before the restaurants opened here.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128



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