5. Bojangles Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits
> Headquarters: Charlotte, North Carolina
> 2018 systemwide sales: $1.3 billion
With 763 restaurants as of this summer, this Southern-inflected chain, founded in 1977 and primarily covering the southeastern U.S., recently hired a new chief development officer charged with driving growth. Sold to two investment companies last fall and taken private, the chain reported a meager overall 1.4% sales growth in 2018 over the previous year.
> Headquarters: Athens, Georgia
> 2018 systemwide sales: $1.8 billion
While other chains might specialize in chicken wings or chicken fingers, Zaxby’s offers both, in several varieties, as well as salads not usually found on fast-food menus (the Caesar and the Cobb). Zaxby’s saw a 7.4% sales growth across its 900-plus units last year.
3. Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen
> Headquarters: Miami, Florida
> 2018 systemwide sales: $3.2 billion
“Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen’s eight-day chicken sandwich frenzy, ignited with a single tweet,” wrote reporter Jonathan Maze last month in Restaurant Business, “has been bad news for two top rivals: KFC and Chick-fil-A.” Both rival operations lost business to Popeyes in August, with some of the chain’s units reporting sales increases of 50% to 60% for the week of August 19. Last year, Popeyes saw a 5.1% increase in sales from its 2,347 U.S. restaurants, but chances are the number will be higher for 2019.
> Headquarters: Louisville, Kentucky
> 2018 systemwide sales: $4.4 billion
The granddaddy of American fried chicken chains, whose origins date back 89 years to Harland Sanders’ first restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky, KFC might have almost 4,100 units around America, but it showed a disappointing 0.4% increase in sales last year over 2017. It’s trying new strategies, including a test of a vegan fried chicken product produced by Beyond Meat, in the form of nuggets and wings, at a unit in Atlanta in August, and the rollout this month of four varieties of chicken wings.
> Headquarters: Atlanta, Georgia
> 2018 systemwide sales: $10.5 billion
Chick-fil-A has been criticized and sometimes boycotted over its owners’ support of anti-gay groups and its opposition to same-sex marriage — but over the years, protests have quieted, and, as Slate reported earlier this year, “many progressives have slunk back through the restaurant’s doors.” That may partially account for the fact that the chain rules the roost in the fast-food chicken world, with its 2,370 U.S. units bringing in more than $10 billion last year, representing a 13.5% increase over 2017.
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