Could it be the end of an era?

I’ve driven by the Popeyes located at 1300 West Pinhook no less than a dozen times since the start of the pandemic. The Oil Center location is one of more than a dozen in the Lafayette area, but it’s the only location with a buffet option.

As a matter of fact, that Pinhook location houses the last remaining Popeyes buffet in the world.

So, every time I would drive by I would ask myself: "I wonder if the buffet will reopen once the pandemic is over?" Like many restaurants, Popeyes has been drive-thru only for the majority of the last year. Only recently have they lifted restrictions to allow pick up and delivery, while dining in is still a no-go.

Paul Kieu

No dining in also means no Popeyes buffet, obviously—but would we even get it back once COVID restrictions were lifted?

After avoiding making the call for months, I finally decided to pick up the phone after I saw a headline that, nationally, Popeyes was doing away with rice dressing and green beans. I have no idea why THAT was the catalyst, but within minutes I had the West Pinhook manager (Brian) on the phone.

Me: “Hey, I was wondering if you guys would be bringing back the Popeyes buffet after the pandemic was over."

Manager Brian: “No…”

It was at that point that I blacked out. I have no idea what was said after that because, at that point, I felt my entire world slip right out from under my feet.

Paul Kieu, paulkieu.com

OK, I’m totally being dramatic, but once I did get past the initial shock, I realized that what Brian actually told me was that a decision was made last year to do away with the Popeyes buffet at that location forever (that's where the "No" came from) —but since then, a new management group had taken over and was actually still undecided on the post-COVID fate of the last remaining Popeyes buffet in the world.

Me (internally speaking): "So, you're saying there's a chance?"

As Brian and I spoke more, it was interesting to hear him speak about the Popeyes buffet from his perspective as the manager of that location. While most of us remember the buffet from our penny-pinching days in college, or as a place to visit from time to time to overindulge with family and friends, it was different for the employees who worked at that location.

Paul Kieu, paulkieu.com

For starters, Manager Brian has been at that Oil Center Popeyes location for 21 years now, starting off as the guy who handled the batter after applying for the job in college. He told me that, over the years, his staff has enjoyed having the buffet at their location, especially when it became the last remaining one of its kind in the world.

The part that really stuck out to me was when Brian told me how things “skyrocketed” after a “food critic” visited their restaurant. He said that the stories and kind words he and his staff would hear from visitors all over the globe made their workdays interesting and fun.

By the way, that “food critic” was the late Anthony Bourdain; a world-renowned chef, writer, and food media giant who famously visited the Pinhook Popeyes location at least three times during his visits to South Louisiana. Brian told me he was actually working each time the late chef visited, but never realized he was there due to Bourdain laying low by dressing in a hoodie.

By the time I was wrapping up my call with Brian, I could tell that he was just as worried as I was that the world-famous Popeyes buffet could be gone forever. Who knows when COVID will allow buffet-style dining to be a safe option again (if at all) but when and if that day comes, I think I speak for many when I say we must protect our beloved Popeyes buffet at all costs.

So, exactly how do we do that?

While I don’t quite have the answer to that and can’t make any guarantees, I did get confirmation from Shelton Restaurant Group (former owners of the 1300 West Pinhook location) that they did indeed sell to High Noon Restaurant Group back in August of 2020.

I left a message with their team and will hopefully hear back soon. In the meantime, if they truly are still weighing their decision to keep the Popeyes buffet, here’s our chance to share, tweet, comment, sing the praises, and show all of the love for what has become an institution for locals and a tourist attraction for the world at large.

Ask not what your Popeyes buffet has done for you, but what can you do for your Popeyes buffet?

Paul Kieu, paulkieu.com

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