Chicken on the Run, which became Popeyes, opened its doors in 1972. That one restaurant has grown into a multi-billion business, which is owned by Restaurant Brands International.
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Before transforming Popeyes into the fast-food behemoth it is today, Copeland, who was living in a New Orleans housing project, dropped out of high school. At 16 years old, with no training and no special skills, Copeland worked two jobs - days at a local supermarket soda counter and nights at his brother’s doughnut shop.
By 1962, he scraped together enough money to buy his own doughnut shop. However, Copeland had his eye on chicken.
″The chicken business looked pretty attractive to me, but I knew that I’d have to have a product I considered better than Kentucky Fried Chicken’s if I was going to compete,″ Copeland told The Associated Press in the late 80s.
Chicken on the Run boasted fast service, however, according to Popeyes, the shop suffered months of lackluster performance. Copeland had toned down his own pepper-laden, Cajun-style formula at the behest of friends who said it wouldn’t sell. Instead, his shop served traditional Southern-fried chicken but within his first year, he lost almost $13,000.
Armed with his original spicy, New Orleans-style chicken recipe, the restaurateur reopened the shop but called it “Popeyes” after Popeye Doyle, a fictional character played by Gene Hackman in "The French Connection."
By 1976, he opened his first franchise restaurant in Louisiana.
By the end of the 1980s, Popeyes opened more than 800 of the restaurants, which were owned by the company or franchisers, and Copeland sat at the helm of the company, according to the New York Times.
Despite coming from humble beginnings. Copeland was known for leading quite the extravagant lifestyle later in life. This included sports cars, speed boats and over the top Christmas decorations, the Times reported. However, Copeland also used his fortune to help give Christmas gifts for children in need each year.
Copeland died in Germany at 64 years old after receiving treatment for a rare form of salivary gland cancer, NPR reported.
Copeland was divorced four times and is survived by his nine children and grandchildren.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.