ORDER’S READY! New employees and trainers serve area first responders and city staff during a soft opening Tuesday.

Happy Hen franchise's first Popeyes is testing new tech to serve better chicken faster

Bob Foos

Mike Turner, one of the franchise owners, demonstrates the drive-up door that will allow staff to deliver orders to the outside lane, which will be dedicated to online/mobile orders. It will be awhile before online ordering is available.  

New Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen opens Thursday

Thursday’s the day you’ve been waiting for, if you’re hungry for some Popeyes chicken, red beans and rice, shrimp and biscuits.

After a soft opening Wednesday, the Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen at 903 S. Madison St. will hold its public grand opening Thursday.

Behind the counter, the Webb City franchise is an early adopter of the ETR (Easy to Run) operating system to improve kitchen layout, equipment, technology innovations and process.

“We’re a test kitchen for ETR,” says Turner. “It’s a BIG thing.”

The man responsible for insisting on the latest and best is Mike Turner. “I’m the ideas guy,” he says, with a mission to achieve better consistency, better quality and faster service.

His ideas include a drive-up door instead of drive-up window. It allows an employee to walk across the regular drive-thru lane to cars in the mobile-order lane. The mobile-order lane allows drivers who have placed their order online to skirt past the line of other drivers waiting to place their orders through a speaker. There will also be order-takers with “line busters” (computer tablets) to move the regular drive-thru lane faster.


First responders are among those enjoying the soft opening Tuesday at Popeyes.

Mike Turner, center, talks with officials of MSW, the Carterville manufacturer of restaurant equipment which produced all of the furniture in the customer area. Popeyes is one of MSW’s national clients.

Arvind Kothapalli, one of three Happy Hen Inc. partners, rallies employees by promising the Webb City Popeyes will serve the best chicken ever.

Connie Sweet, who used to live on the Popeyes site, has the honor of receiving the first piece of celebratory cake.

In the kitchen, there’s an auto breader to bread the chicken and seafood more consitently than can be done by hand.

“We’ve really gone above and beyond your regular store,” says Turner. “I’m probably the most out-of-the-box franchise Popeyes has. I always ask why.”

And because of that, he says, “We’re under the corporate spotlight.”

A crew from the Popeyes corporate office in Chicago, Ill., was here Tuesday to finish installing the high-tech kitchen and show the local staff how to use it.

Among those from Chicago was Teresa Calderone, a franchise business partner, who supports all Popeyes franchises in her territory. There was also Matt Doudalis, operations partner; Carlos Martinez, senior manager of ETR development, and Yo-Zon Elliott, central region training manager.

Turner admits he has “zero experience,” other than being fired from his first job as a teenager at Pioneer Chicken, partly because he forgot to put chicken in a sandwich.

Pioneer Chicken might not have gone bankrupt if it had kept Turner on until he became an accountant.

Instead, he can name an endless number of countries he helped as an accountant fighting poverty with the World Bank. He also taught overseas and was in India with a team of 350 paralegals.

“I’ve done things all over the world,” Turner says.

He’s moved here to shepherd his first restaurant through its first few months.

He says he’s more suited to the mood here than in California, where Happy Hen Inc. is based. He compliments the city staff for being easy to work with. But for one who doesn’t like to take no for an answer, he says he was dejected when he wasn’t allowed to install a higher sign out front.

The Webb City Popeyes will have 40 to 50 employees.

Happy Hen Inc. is owned by Turner has two partners, Arvind Kothapalli, in India, and Ty Sisson, in Los Angeles, Calif. Sisson is in charge of real estate, while Turner is in charge of operations.

Happy Hen’s second store, also built from the ground up, will be on a bigger lot that they’ve bought in Miami, Okla. The lot, near Walmart, includes a Charley’s Chicken, which will be converted to a Mexican restaurant.

Popeyes staff members are about to turn off the lights Wednesday, with everything ready to serve the public for the first time Thursday.