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Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen opens 17th store at former El Zipperle location

After three years of abandonment, the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Teniente César González has a renewed purpose with the inauguration of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen’s 17th restaurant in Puerto Rico.

The 3,000 square-foot restaurant known for its Cajun-style cooking, is generating a mix of 50 full- and part-time jobs, and entailed an investment of $3.5 million, including the half-acre it sits on, owner, John Brodersen, president of Brodersen Management Enterprises, told this media outlet during an interview on Monday.

“One of the reasons why we decided to purchase the 352 Roosevelt Ave location was precisely because we wanted to give it a new life and renewed purpose, after almost three years of neglect,” Brodersen said.

John Brodersen, president of Brodersen Management Enterprises. (Credit: Diego A. Cantor)

“We understand its iconic history as El Zipperle and we have invested $3.5 million, including land, construction and equipment, to ensure that this new store meets our high standards and continue to be a place to make new family memories, with a new kitchen style but the same commitment,” said Brodersen, whose company owns the local franchise, as well as 62 Popeyes restaurants, including the local 17 stores, in other six markets — Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana, as well as 13 Wendy’s in Florida.

The restaurant is one of three that will open this year, he said, confirming plans for future locations at Plaza Las Américas — a $500,000, 2,200 square-foot restaurant where KFC used to be on the first level that will open in August — and in Fajardo, where the franchisee will invest $1.4 million in a 3,300 square-foot restaurant slated to open in December.

The Popeyes franchise arrived on the island in 2006, with the opening of the first location in Bayamón, said Brodersen. Since then, the company has steadily grown its local footprint — creating a total of 850 jobs and an investment of $33 million so far — en-route to having at least 50 restaurants islandwide.

The plans call for opening three stores a year, as long as the franchise can keep up with training management from within the employee ranks, he said.

“We train from within and promote from within,” said Brodersen, who began as a cook for Popeyes in the 1980’s. He built his first Popeyes at 28, in Milwaukee in 1990. “Training is our number one thing. I was a training manager 25 years ago and I strongly believe in it. Every time I nearly went out of business it was because of management,” he said.

The organization that has been created in Puerto Rico has been recognized by Popeyes on a corporate level, which asked local personnel to train staff at stores opening in other countries, namely Panama, Peru, Bahamas, Costa Rica, Chile, Guyana and Vietnam, he said.

“Popeyes noticed that this was the best training franchise in the world,” he said.

Meanwhile, Brodersen continues to bet on Puerto Rico, based on the local acceptance of the franchise that buys its ingredients from local providers — chicken from To-Ricos, flour from Molinos de Puerto Rico, bread from Pan Pepín, and produce from AgroProduce.

A Popeyes employee makes the chain’s Cajun-style chicken.

“At first, when I built the first restaurant in Puerto Rico, I didn’t know if people would come. It was hard to compete with big chains down here, where the marketing budget makes up for quality. Since we couldn’t out-market them, we out-serviced them. We offer clean and fast service, and a good product,” he said.

He also believes Puerto Rico is a market of opportunity and growth, despite economic forecasts and misconceptions.

“Our sales, which reflect ongoing growth of 15 percent vs. 2018, are proof that investing in Puerto Rico is not only smart but also essential. We have the best team, the most loyal customers and the recipe for success,” he said.

This store joins another 16 located in Carolina (two stores), Ponce, Mayagüez (University Plaza and in front of Mayagüez Mall), Caguas (two stores), Santa Isabel, Trujillo Alto, Dorado, Hatillo, Santurce, Levittown, Cupey and Bayamón (Rexville and in front of Plaza del Sol.)

Popeyes distinguishes itself with a unique “New Orleans” style menu that features spicy chicken, chicken tenders, fried shrimp and other seafood, as well as red beans and rice and other regional items. 

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