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Popeyes “Annie” not a Restaurant Founder, Just an Actress

Larry Rankin is among the millions of hardworking denizens of the world disillusioned by the abuses of the ultra-wealthy.

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I was waiting in line at a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen the other day while a family ordered in front of me.Coincidentally, this family of three (Mom, Dad, and son) sounded as though they were from the great state of Louisiana. Just conjecture on my part, but I would be willing to guess they had initially been evacuated to Oklahoma after the devastation of Katrina and had decided to stay.But whatever the reason, like me, they were craving spicy fried chicken, and I’d be willing to bet, dollars to donuts, they were honest to goodness Cajuns.

The father ordered as the man behind the counter punched the menu selections into the cash register.Like many of the workers at Popeyes, the gentleman behind the register was an African American.This makes sense, I suppose, Popeyes specializing in soul food with a Cajun twist.

As the father finished ordering, his son, a stocky child, probably of fourteen or fifteen years old, exclaims, “I like your commercials!” The man behind the counter pauses, measures the situation and the boy continues, “Are you in any of the commercials?I like the lady.Do you know her?”

The father grits his teeth and smiles nervously at the man, and the man’s face turns from stern to kindly.He correctly assesses the situation. This boy is learning disabled.He isn’t asking the man these questions with any underlying racisms.It just stands to reason to this kid that the man is a worker at Popeyes, so he has probably been in one of the commercials, and surely he’s met Annie, the Popeyes franchise owner.

The man working the register chuckles and says, “No, I’m not in any of the commercials,” and looking at the father continues, “I’ve not met her, but I sure need to.”

The father smiles, “Yeah, that would be one heck of a sugar momma to have.” The group has a collective laugh.

Like most people familiar with the Popeyes Franchise, the people in front of me in line, even the workers, believe Annie is the founder of Popeyes.And why wouldn’t they?In the commercials this motherly black woman speaks in a soothing southern accent about her chicken, her spices, and her restaurant. The implication is always that she is the restaurant founder.Why would the American Public think otherwise?

Popeyes Commercial

Deidrie Henry:

Deidrie Henry was born in Barbados. At an early age, she moved with her family to Atlanta, Georgia. From there she would matriculate, eventually studying to be a pilot. When that career didn’t pan out, she decided to pursue a career in acting, working in acting troupes all the way from New York to Oregon to Paris.

After moderate success on stage, Deidrie eventually earned the “role” she is best known for today, “Annie” the Popeyes lady. 1

As for Deidrie being “one heck of a sugar momma,” ArticleBio.com puts her net worth at somewhere around $1.8 million, a far cry from the hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions, that the real owners of Popeyes have. 2

Early History of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen:

Popeyes was founded in Arabi, Louisiana in 1972 by a high school dropout of Caucasian decent named Al Copeland. Mr. Copeland came from humble beginnings and was a self-made and eventually self-ruined man.

Al Copeland was born in New Orleans in 1944. Copeland’s father would abandon the family a few years after his birth. As a result, Copeland’s situation was quite meager growing up, but his family would manage to get by, and though his chicken restaurant would struggle early on, the eventual decision to quit trying to compete with Kentucky Fried Chicken’s brand, instead branching off to mimic the style of hot and spicy fried chicken developed by Louisiana’s largely ethnic population, would prove very successful.

With the expansion of Popeyes came a lust for living large. Copeland would marry many times and have many children. He would fund frivolous ventures like boat racing, but also some noble ones, like education.

Eventually Copeland’s lifestyle led to some $400 million in debt, and he was forced to file bankruptcy. He would die of cancer in 2008 at the age of 64. 3,4

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Opinion

Popeyes Today:

Al Copeland lost Popeyes in 1992.From there, it has been owned by a couple of large, faceless, corporate entities. It was most recently purchased for around $1.8 billion in March of 2017 by Restaurant Brand International, owners of such large franchises as Burger King and Tim Horton’s.

With some 2,600 locations around the world, Popeyes has an estimated yearly revenue of $206 million, most of this revenue going to the same handful of old white men that own everything else in this country. 3,4

Annie is an Actress, so What does It Matter?

There is no fault in having a fictional spokesperson. Just look at Progressive’s Flo character, for example. Though I don’t think anybody seriously believes Flo is a bona fide insurance saleswoman, and she doesn’t go around saying everything is hers.

And I’ve also seen where people have tried to skew the Popeyes Annie character as somehow a racist stereotype. I don’t find that to be accurate, either. Her word choice is clear and coherent, and quite frankly, a good representation of how many people from Louisiana speak, regardless of ethnicity.

It isn’t even wrong that the actress who plays Annie isn’t a real Louisianan. Actors and actresses are called upon to play roles different than their specific backgrounds all the time.

So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that the Annie character perpetuates the lie that the American dream still exists in this country. That there is still any real hope for upward mobility. First, the Annie character is humble. She doesn’t reek of money or the silver spoon. She’s one of us! Second, the Annie character is black. She appears to be an African American who has finally been able to generate success off the culinary ingenuity of her beleaguered culture. And third, she’s a woman. Women are the most blatantly discriminated against group in this country. To see a woman accomplish what Annie has and at a fairly early age, it would be inspiring if it were true.

Colonel Sanders was a real man, a product of extreme poverty. On the old commercials he talks about his chicken because it is his chicken! Though the Colonel may have gotten boxed out a bit towards the end, he was a founder. Dave Thomas was another rags to riches founder/spokesperson.

Annie is a figment of the imagination. A tipping of the cap to a bygone era when the wealthy were allowed to occasionally fail and the downtrodden could take their place. And not even that, because with almost no exceptions, women, especially women of color, have never been allowed to succeed in business.

The problem isn’t that Popeyes pretends to have a heart and soul when it doesn’t. All big business does that. McDonald’s, Burger King, whatever. They all pretend to care about their communities and line their pockets while their employees starve to death. At least we know the American Dream they’re selling is a lie, or at least we should.

When we see Annie as she is portrayed, as a “real person,” we think that there is hope for the rest of us. We think that maybe we just need to try a little harder. That the system isn’t broke. That there is equality and decency in the world. And the longer they can keep us believing this lie, the longer they can keep stealing everything.

Sources:

1. imbd.com, Deidrie Henry

2. articlebio.com, Deidrie Henry

3. Wikiperdia.org, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

4. Wikipedia.org, Al Copeland

Comments

LaZeric Freeman from Hammond on June 16, 2020:

Its funny how these actors do such a great job that they become the face for the company. In some cases they actually do have ties to the company. Like the lady who did the Honey Bunches of Oates commercials and I believe the Snapple lady as well.

Paisley Seven Park on June 02, 2019:

There are some comments from people that are not totally honest. The Popeyes chain was a regional chain that has just recently gone national. The people in the region where it originated will more than likely known that the character is not real because they were aware of the chain before these ads began to air. The places with "new" chains see the ads and the language used in the ads and assume that she is the owner. I cannot think of another national chain that has a fictional "owner". (Not to mention that they specifically use her southern Louisiana to sell the idea that she knowns how to make good chicken.) If you know that she is just an actress, you known that what is presented in the ad is just phony and is not going to motivate you to try the new...... The ad for the most part hinges on believing that the woman knowns what she is talking about. Once you realize that it is just acting, there really is no need for the actress, just show us the new product/ new deal.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on October 09, 2017:

Dianna: thanks so much for dropping by. I always enjoy when you do.

Dianna Mendez on October 06, 2017:

I too believed she was the founder. What a surprise to find out she is an actress. She does have a convincing nature and makes one want to try their chicken.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on October 02, 2017:

Besarian: thanks for adding your perspective.

Besarien from South Florida on September 27, 2017:

On the other hand, they hired a black actress as their public face and corporate spokesperson. I can't help but feel a bit less disappointed when I think about it that way. When I was a kid, I saw Diahann Caroll and Nichelle Nichols and thought, wow, I might belong somewhere as a member of a team some day too, (but of course the leader will be some white guy.) In an era where I knew a black nurse who couldn't get hired except as a housekeeper/attendant, that was a beautiful delusion that eventually became an attainable dream. Maybe our current American Delusion will one day become a dream some day too?

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on September 14, 2017:

Larry: it's a natural assumption to make. A lot of people come on here acting like you're a fool if you bought in. Well, she says their her stores in the commercials and a lot of commercials that have spokespeople that use this kind of verbiage are actually owners, or at least actors playing deceased owners.

Thanks so much for stopping by.

Larry Slawson from North Carolina on September 12, 2017:

Really interesting article! I always assumed that Annie was the founder/owner as well. Haha. Thanks for sharing!

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on August 03, 2017:

Catherine: I appreciate your comments and I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on August 02, 2017:

This is a very interesting story. When my son was young, I sued to buy at Popeye's a couple of times a month. I haven't see the Annie commercial on TV. Thanks for a chance to see it. I didn't even know they have seafood.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on July 05, 2017:

Finn: I appreciate the kind words:-)

Fin from Barstow on June 28, 2017:

well and interesting and informative article. Nice pace...good references and you integrated fact with personal commentary nicely. You have many qualities in your writing worthy of emulating.

and i learned a few new things.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on June 14, 2017:

Shauna: thanks for dropping by.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 13, 2017:

I love Popeye's chicken! As was Miz B, I once wrote TV commercials, so I never thought the actress portraying Annie was anything but an actress. Chances are, if she were actually an owner, she wouldn't be comfortable in front of the camera and wouldn't come off as realistic.

I enjoyed learning the history behind the franchise and the name of the woman who portrays Annie. To be honest, Larry, I wouldn't say a black woman who's worth 1.8 million is a spoof on the American Dream. Yeah, there are a bunch of greedy money-mongers out there (and I'm pretty sure I know to whom you refer) but the rest of us aren't doomed to failure or poverty because of them. We still have the power to make the best of ourselves and our lives.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on May 25, 2017:

Nadine: I always enjoy your feedback.

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on May 25, 2017:

What an interesting article. You have truly explained the background of a franchise business very well. Yes all corporations know how to market their products. At the moment I'm following the TV series Mad Man...

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on May 18, 2017:

Sharon: I always appreciate hearing from you.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on May 17, 2017:

Larry, we have a Popeyes about two miles from here, I like their extra crispy chicken. We don't go there often, but it is near where we go for bottled water.

Very good and informative article.

Blessings my friend.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on May 12, 2017:

Linda: thanks for dropping by. Popeyes is a very popular chain in much of the US.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 11, 2017:

I've never heard of Popeyes or of Annie before, but I still appreciated this thought provoking article. I'm glad that you included the video as well.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on May 11, 2017:

Mel: what is lost in this is that, yeah, I love spicy chicken, too, lol.

Regardless, I think it's exploitive for Popeyes to promote in this misleading of a manner. If you listen to her wording, Annie strongly indicates she owns the franchise. It's different than Dave Thomas and Wendy's. Or a spokesperson who presents him or herself as a spokesperson and not an owner like Flo or the Geico lizard.

As for the Colonel, he's a fascinating figure. He was most definitely pushed out in the end, but at least he was a founder.

Thanks so much for stopping by. We have a 2 week old and 2 year old now, so I'm not up to date on the 15 reference. Been keeping busy:-) If you get a chance, I'd love to be enlightened.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on May 11, 2017:

Bill: appreciate the feedback:-)

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on May 11, 2017:

John: I'm glad you enjoyed it. Even though Popeyes isn't a restaurant you're familiar with, I think we can all relate to marketing hyjinks.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on May 11, 2017:

Irma: she does a good job of hiding the corporate machine.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on May 11, 2017:

FlourishAnyway: I don't know if I have the time to start a series. Advertising certainly is a fascinating world.

Thanks so much for dropping by.

Larry Rankin (author) from Oklahoma on May 11, 2017:

MizBejabbers: thanks for dropping by. I always enjoy your feedback.

Mel Carriere from San Diego California on May 11, 2017:

I always thought that lady on the commercials was a famous soul singer they hired to plug their product. That's another stereotype, I know. I have to say I'm fond of the spicy Cajun chicken. The Colonel was eventually bought out by corporate America too. I think Pepsi owns it. The process is inexorable. Great hub. Fight for 15.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 11, 2017:

See all the cool stuff you learn on HP! We don't have a Popeyes here in Washington. If we did I'd be there.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on May 11, 2017:

I found this very interesting, Larry. Even though in Australia I have never heard of Popeye's or Annie. I can still relate. Well written.

Irma Cowthern from Los Angeles,CA on May 10, 2017:

Deidrie Henry's acting is so great - one is completely lost inside the unpretentious Annie's World of Popeyes. Corporation? What corporation?

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 10, 2017:

Great article, Larry. It would be terrific if you could somehow turn this into a series of insight articles into company spokespeople, strategies and misperceptions we may have based on clever marketing.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on May 10, 2017:

Excellent and well-written article, Larry. Thank you for educating those who thought Annie was the real deal. It never dawned on me, a former ad writer, that people would actually think that "Annie" was the real owner and founder of Popeyes. The actress does a good commercial that is pleasant to listen to, but in my opinion, still not believable. Now, speaking of KFC, I really want to barf when this fake replacement of the late Colonel Sanders comes on TV. The writing, the voice, ugh!