Al Copeland, the founder of Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits, has died. He was 64 years old. In his native New Orleans, he was known as much for his flamboyant lifestyle as for his chain's spicy chicken.
At the age of 18, Copeland sold his car to fund his first restaurant: a doughnut shop. When a successful Kentucky Fried Chicken moved into his neighborhood, Copeland started tinkering with recipes and opened a restaurant of his own. But it struggled: The chicken was too bland. So, he returned to his Louisiana roots and made it spicy.
Under Copeland's leadership, Popeyes opened more than 700 restaurants worldwide. At a Popeyes in New Orleans, restaurant manager Herschel Epps says Copeland was true to his roots.
"The same way that he was today, he was yesterday. He was always consistent, a caring person, and his loss will be felt heavy around here because he was a great guy."
In 1989, Popeyes acquired rival Church's Chicken, which later forced Copeland's company into bankruptcy. Through good times and bad, Copeland led an extravagant lifestyle: sports cars, speed boats — and garish Christmas light displays at his suburban New Orleans home that were so popular that authorities had to direct traffic and neighbors filed lawsuits. There were lavish weddings and bitter divorces that were the talk of the town.
Copeland died in Germany, where he was getting treatment for a rare form of salivary gland cancer.