US fried chicken chain Popeyes is set to open its first UK restaurant this year and is eyeing expansion in a mix of city centre and suburban locations.
The brand, which runs 3,400 restaurants in 29 countries, is looking to grow to 350 UK sites over the next decade as part of a wider European roll-out.
Elias Diaz Sese, co-founder of Popeyes UK and a director of Domino's Pizza UK and Ireland, told The Caterer the UK was an "extremely attractive" market for investors and the company wants to grow in a "rational and reasonable way".
Openings will be a mix of eat-in, delivery and drive-through sites and could also extend to travel hubs.
Popeyes was founded in New Orleans in 1972 and is known for its chicken tenders and fried shrimp. In 2019 the brand made headlines in the US when the launch of its spicy chicken sandwich sparked long queues outside its stores, leading to a nationwide shortage.
Sese said Popeye's sites and menu could be tailored to a UK audience, and the brand is currently conducting consumer research.
The pandemic has not impacted its search for sites and the company is taking a long-term view of the market.
"We have a good number of locations we are looking at right now and are working hard to get our first location by the end of the year," said Sese.
"In the next 10 years we know the market will be back and we've instructed our agents to go into this thinking about the future. Some of the cities are obviously empty but that will not always be the case."
Popeyes is owned by Restaurant Brands International (RBI), which is also behind Burger King and Tim Hortons. The UK expansion is part of a partnership between Sese, a subsidiary of RBI and Austrian company Ring International Holdings.
A number of other international chains are also targeting expansion in the UK. Filipino fast food chain Jollibee is investing £30m in its UK growth while US burger brand Wendy's is planning to open 20 restaurants within the next few years.
"The US, UK, China and Australia are extremely attractive to investors," said Sese. "The UK is one of the best food markets in the world, not only in London but Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. It's very rich in terms of competition…you can never become complacent."