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Popeye Quiz

The Eddys play a game of chicken with new products.

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If you're craving a Buffalo Deluxe chicken sandwich, you'd better hurry to one of the metro's 16 Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits. In two weeks, the experimental sandwich will be pulled from local menus and officially evaluated at the chain's Atlanta headquarters.

"Kansas City is one of the Popeye's test markets," explains Jim Eddy, who owns — with his brother, Ned — all of the Popeye's franchises in the Kansas City market (which includes Liberty, Belton, Leavenworth and Independence). "In the last 18 months, we've tested eight new products."

For example, there's a Cajun chicken burrito made with a spicy fried chicken strip and red beans and rice wrapped in a tortilla. Kansas Citians liked the ersatz "Mexican Goes Mardi Gras" creation, but Eddy says it takes awhile to get innovations into the pipeline.

Much more pressing to the Eddy brothers is finding a new midtown location to replace the Popeye's at the corner of 39th Street and Broadway, which did great business for two decades but closed last year. They simply had too many problems with the 80-year-old building (which was originally a filling station). "Now we're working with Block & Company to find another building in the same vicinity," Eddy says, "maybe closer to the KU Med Center."

The Eddys have been opening two new chicken joints a year, but one locale they aren't considering is downtown Kansas City, Missouri, though Jim, Ned and their children have discussed the idea. "We're not convinced the business is there yet," says Ned, who ran the food services operations at Bartle Hall for 15 years until the family sold Eddy's Catering to TreatAmerica last year.

The first generation of Eddy restaurateurs — Ned Sr. and his brothers, Sam and George — began their culinary empire at 13th Street and Baltimore. The original Eddy's was a swanky supper club featuring big musical stars of the 1950s — people like the Crew Cuts and Andy Williams. George booked the acts; he turned down a skinny, unknown singer from Brooklyn named Barbra Streisand. The cover charge was $1.50, and a skillet-fried chicken dinner cost $2.50. By 1965 the supper-club circuit — and downtown Kansas City — was past its prime. The building, which still stands, was last occupied by Republic Title.

The Eddys then opened a series of Loaf 'n Stein delicatessens, serving thick sandwiches and cold beer. Those were gone by 1983, but Jim Eddy says some people have suggested that he revive the concept, perhaps in a downtown location.

I say test-market the idea.

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