Popeyes and Checkers are two unaffiliated fast-food companies, but they’ll soon be neighbors in the Polish Triangle along the busy intersection of Ashland, Milwaukee, and Division. Checkers, the fast-food burger company based out of Tampa, Florida, is trying to lure a younger and trendier customer base and the chain thinks this new location could be a key.
The burger chain should open its latest location on July 16 at 1555 W. Division Street. The owner of that Checkers franchise is also bringing fried chicken to the triangle with a Popeyes location next door in Noble Square.
Again, these two fast-food companies aren’t connected. Popeyes management didn’t return requests for comment. A worker at the restaurant said it should also open in about two weeks, which matches Checkers’s debut.
The restaurants don’t share a kitchen or public entrance. But the two are connected by a hallway inside. Checkers & Rally’s Director of Franchise Development Bruce Kim said the arrangement is uncommon, but although there’s separate franchise agreements and the two brands don’t commingle, the company allows it. Checkers’s rep said they granted their franchisee, Aby Mohamed, permission to run neighboring restaurants. They like Mohamed and feel the two brands complement each other.
“As long as you can see two distinct brand elements,” said Kim.
This is a big deal for Checkers. Among the 26 in the Chicago area (which extends to northwest Indiana), West Town’s is the closest location to downtown Chicago. For Checkers, the launch is part of a plan to open 100 new restaurants in the Chicago area in the next “few years.” The company already has about 20 around town, including one at 4320 W. North Avenue in Hermosa. The company was purchased in 2017 by Oak Hill Capital Partners, a New York private equity firm. The brand date backs to 1986 in Mobile, Alabama. It some parts of the country, restaurant is known as Rally’s. There’s 862 locations across the country. The company wants to bring that to 1,200.
The Polish Triangle is home to a Burger King and there’s a Wendy’s just west of Division and Ashland. The nation’s first boozy Taco Bell is also nearby. There’s a demand for fast food near the CTA’s Division Street Blue Line stop. Checkers is a value-minded chain, Kim said. It shares a price tier with Taco Bell, White Castle, and Church’s Chicken.
“Our food has a bolder flavor, it’s cravable and delicious,” Kim said, adding one of the company’s goals is to offer meals for around $5.
But being a smart representative of the company, Kim followed by noting that Checkers burgers are all beef. The seasoned fries are popular enough where the company sells them frozen at grocery stores.
There’s a bit of irony with workers putting up retro-looking tiles over the weekend. The restaurant neighbors a building erected in the 1930s. It housed the Snappy Service System fast-food burger chain. In recent years, it’s been home to Authentaco, Flip Burgers, and Wilson’s Dogs. Unlike most Checkers locations, there’s no drive-thru here.
Over the years, Popeyes’s fried chicken has gained credibility with authorities including author and chef Kenji Lopez-Alt who suggested home cooks should uses the chain’s nuggets in Chinese-American recipes. Big Jones chef Paul Fehribach is known for his fried chicken at his Andersonville restaurant. He mentioned Popeyes’s frying methods when describing the changes he made to his remodeled kitchen.
That’s the kind of notoriety Checkers would like. Last year, the chain unveiled a new tagline in TV ads: “fast foodies know the deal.” The chain is trying to modernize and appeal to more customers. Kim said online deliveries have increased sales by a “significant amount.”
Check back for an update on Popeyes’s opening date.