A photo of Sweet Dixie Kitchen's Biscuit and Chicken BiscuitWitch ($12.95), with the hashtag #scratch, which the owner says refers to the biscuit and cole slaw, not the Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen spicy tenders ($7.79 for 5). Screenshot from Facebook.
Two months ago restaurant owner Kimberly Sanchez decided that what was missing from Sweet Dixie Kitchen’s southern comfort-food inspired menu was some fried chicken.
The brunch-forward eatery, lacking a fryer, has never had fried chicken as an option, and had touted their oven-cooked meats as a very intentional and health-conscious decision, in line with their “Eat Well” mantra. However Sanchez, who was born and raised in the south and was previously a baker at San Francisco’s famous Mama’s, ultimately decided that adding the bread-encrusted bird to the menu in the form of chicken and waffles plate and a chicken sandwich on a biscuit was a no-brainer. .
She’s facing a growing backlash now, however, after a one-star Yelp review calling the restaurant out for using crispy strips courtesy of the national fast-food chain Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in her chicken dishes became the subject of an article on Longbeachize on Monday.
That article caught the attention of popular food blog Foodbeast, and from there, the story went viral, popping up in publications across the country—including the Popeyes franchise’s home city of New Orleans.
“[I] called up my distributor, bought a couple things from Smart & Final, a couple frozen chicken pieces from Restaurant Depot, we tried them all,” Sanchez explained when contacted by the Post. “I wasn’t even thinking of using Popeyes, but went to Popeyes to grab some stuff because we were watching a football game at my house.”
“I’m like ‘oh my god, why don’t I use Popeyes, this is the best chicken I’ve ever had’,” she said. “And so we do.”
Sanchez says she’s never made it a secret that Popeyes Louisiana Fried Chicken is an ingredient in both the $12.95 Chicken and Biscuits “BiscuitWitch” and the Chicken and Waffles.
Responding to the initial Yelp review that launched what is now being referred to (with tongue firmly in cheek, we hope) as “#Popeyesgate,” Sanchez wrote that they “PROUDLY SERVE Popeyes spicy tenders,” calling it the “best fried chicken anywhere.” She also threw a jab at the reviewer, saying "whatever to you and your little review like it was some great exposure- and whatever to you dude."
Tyler H.'s original and updated Yelp review (left); Kim Sanchez's response (right). Screenshot from Yelp.
This attitude and type of response seems pervasive in Sanchez and the restaurant's social media interactions, when responding to critics; several posters on social media were told to "get over themselves." Sanchez chalked this up to being defensive of her business. A bizarre (and since-deleted) post that appeared on Sweet Dixie Kitchen's Instagram page after the controversy gained steam sarcastically asked "Did you know we don't get anything here?"
Screenshot from Instagram.
Sanchez told the Post that in actuality, she purchases what she predicts will be enough for the day from the Popeyes on 10th Street and Long Beach Boulevard, carries it in through the front door, and lays it out to cool “like we do all of our other meats.”
“We lay it out so that it cools to temp, because it’s supposed to reach 40 degrees within two hours, so we put it in the refrigerator, let it cool, and then we re-heat it in the oven,” Sanchez said.
“If a restaurant is serving pie and they happen to get it from Marie Callender's or is serving muffins and they are getting it from Costco, we would consider that a licensed source because that source is approved and it's basically sanctioned by some government entity,” Nelson Kerr, environmental health bureau manager, told the Post. “In this case, if you're getting chicken from Popeyes—and just from what I read from the owner it looks like she is handling it appropriately, that we're not going for hours and hours letting it sit out—[...] Popeyes is an approved source and as long as they are handling that in a sanitary manner and in a timely manner and observing proper temperature protocol and cooking and reheating properly, there's nothing in the health and safety code that would prohibit that process or their actions there. So on faith, we don't really have an issue with that.”
She is not required to declare the brand on her menu, however, said Kerr. It’s completely up to the discretion of the owner.
“They could claim and say 'proudly serving Popeyes Chicken' and if they said that and they end up serving another generic chicken then you would have a truth in menu issue but if they don't say anything then that's just another approved source where they are getting their food from and there's probably multiple approved sources that all restaurants do and food is transported every day,” Kerr said.
But if you weren’t the Yelper who saw Sanchez carrying boxes of the southern delight through her restaurant’s front doors, how would any customer have known to ask? Sanchez admits that she omits from the menu that it's Popeyes chicken that’s on your plate.
“I’ve never made it a secret that we sell it,” Sanchez said. “I can’t put it on the menu because that would infringe Popeyes’ trademark, but we’re more than happy to tell you that we have it. I don’t think I can legally put it on the menu. I think Popeyes would sue me if I put it on the menu.”
The Post reached out to Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen as well as its owner, Restaurant Brands International, for comment on the issue but had not received a response at the time of publication.
And responding to critics of the double-digit price for what many view as a cheaper fast-food option, Sanchez says the Popeyes “ingredient” is only one part of the full meal.
“Once you add the biscuit and the homemade coleslaw and the labor it took to make both of those things and all the other stuff. People make it sound like I’m taking just a chicken from Popeyes which you can buy for $7—which actually I’m having for lunch right now—and then mark it up to $14 and that’s not the case.”
“The biscuit is homemade, the coleslaw was homemade. We did make that from scratch,” she continued. “The chicken just happens to be an extra ingredient that went into a scratch-made product.”
The rub, however, for many of her critics on Yelp and Facebook, is that much of the restaurant’s image and branding revolve around an “eat local” ethos, with posts to Sweet Dixie’s social media accounts frequently feature hashtags like #scratch and #homemade. The “About Me” section on the restaurant’s Facebook page claimed, before being edited, that “Everything is made here—right down to our bacon jam and siracha [sic] sour cream sauce.”
Sweet Dixie Kitchen's original "About Me" section on their Facebook page (left); as of this morning, the section has been edited (right). Screenshots from Facebook.
Sanchez said she was unaware of the “About Me” section on Facebook until a user called her out for the it. The section has since been edited.
“I immediately changed that, I changed that yesterday, as soon as I found it and could access it,” she said. “Well honestly I didn't even know, somebody else set up the Facebook account for me. I didn’t even know in the About section there was any words, I thought it was the hours[...] I didn’t know that at the bottom of the About there was that little blurb about the restaurant. I didn’t even know it was there. Our menus were all updated, Yelp was updated, nothing anywhere else says we do everything from scratch.”
When asked if she would do anything differently following the fried-chicken fueled rage that has spread like wildfire across the interwebs, Sanchez pondered exactly what restaurants are required to divulge.
“For example, we make our quiches, but I don’t make the pie shell,” Sanchez said. “I buy an already-made pie shell. Now sometimes, I’ll take a piece of puff pastry and I’ll make my own pie shell, and sometimes we run out of time and we don’t, but I still call the quiche homemade. It’s made from scratch. It’s a fine line, but where do you cross the line? I think as long as I’m using an item as an ingredient in a larger thing, then you don’t really need to call that out every time. And maybe I’m wrong about that, but then if I say Popeyes, do I say it’s a Marie Callender's pie crust?”
“Where do I stop putting all that stuff on the menu,” she continued. “Do I say when I bring baguettes in for po’ boy, ‘proudly serving baguettes from Babette’s Bakery,’ nobody else does that. I don’t know if people would be happier if I don’t use Popeyes and I bring in a frozen chicken. I don’t know if that would have solved it, I don’t know if it's just [about] Popeyes I don’t know what it is. But I mean, I’m loyal to Popeyes because I’m from the South and Popeyes is king of the south. I wouldn’t serve another chicken, that’s why I didn’t go to KFC.”
Aside from the issue of whether Sanchez fries her own chicken or not—and the name "Sweet Dixie" itself, and the images of the antebellum south it evokes—some critics are more concerned about the sources Popeyes uses. One Yelp user, Joshua F. linked to an article on Case Farms writing, “It's always good to know the path your food took en route to your plate. Shame on Popeyes and, perhaps, even more so, shame on you Sweet Dixie, which prides itself on local, fresh food, and should be held to a much higher standard.”
“No one believes in the integrity of food more than I,” Sanchez said. “I chose Popeyes because I believe in the integrity of the chicken. I read the article about the inhumane treatment and I don’t know how to respond to that, but I believe in the product. And I believe in my own product and I believe if we were to make every single thing every single day we would be there 24/7, not that that’s a bad thing. I guess I could work that much.”
Stephanie Rivera contributed to this story.