Sweet Dixie Kitchen in Long Beach prides itself on serving updated Southern fare with a made-from-scratch ethos; owner Kimberly Sanchez estimates that 90 or 95 percent of the items that end up on her menu are crafted in-house. But one item brought in from the outside is causing some controversy: Two dishes feature fried chicken that she buys daily from a local Long Beach Popeyes.
Each morning she picks up 11-piece boxes of chicken breast strips and walks through the front door of the restaurant, which features a folksy chalkboard sign thanking Louisiana for Popeyes, and Steen’s Syrup. The pieces are chilled immediately and reheated to order in an oven, in a way Sanchez says complies with healthy food handling practices. The fried chicken appears in two dishes on the menu, a plate of chicken and waffles, and a biscuit sandwich.
A Yelp reviewer recently voiced his displeasure that a place OC Weekly named “Long Beach’s Church of Southern Breakfast” would sell fast-food fried chicken. In a post dated October 7, “Tyler H.” describes seeing the Popeyes boxes being brought in, and then ordering the chicken and waffles just to see if the restaurant was indeed serving Popeyes. He thought the taste was similar to the chain’s, and he asked his server, who confirmed the origin.
Sanchez responded sharply to the public criticism, posting, “We proudly serve Popeyes spicy tenders—the best fried chicken anywhere, and from New Orleans.” Going on to explain that they also don’t have a farm to grow their own vegetables on site, and that perhaps this was not very different, an assertion she now acknowledges may have come off as “naïve.”
“I mishandled that bite-back on Yelp,” Sanchez said. “It’s something I’ve gone back and apologized for. It’s something I will try not to do. I never meant to set off any controversy. I’m protective, defensive about my restaurant.”
Yesterday, local blog LONGBEACHIZE reported the story, and now Sweet Dixie Kitchen’s Yelp page has a string of one-star reviews, all critical of the outsourced chicken, many reviews specifically mentioning that the marketing and social media of the restaurant specifically emphasize the homemade aspect. Sanchez says that she never captioned an Instagram “#fromscratch” when it wasn’t, and that critics are focusing too much on the chicken, which is a small part of the overall menu. (Prior to the controversy, the Yelp reviews were generally positive, including recent reviews describing the chicken and waffles as “amazing.”)
“I truthfully never meant to deceive anyone,” Sanchez says. “Anyone who ever said, ‘This chicken is awesome,’ I told them, ‘Yeah, I know. It’s from Popeyes.'”
How did Popeyes end up on the menu in the first place? Sweet Dixie Kitchen started out as a bakery. The kitchen set-up has plenty of oven space, but no place to put a fryer. The first version of chicken and waffles featured a roasted chicken the staff did prepare in-house, but diners weren’t thrilled with the non-fried take on the classic comfort food, so the chef started to look into options. After tasting prepped fried chicken from more traditional commercial food suppliers, she decided nobody made a better chicken for the price than Popeyes, and since it was in keeping with the Southern theme of the restaurant, she would just source from there.
“If I had the ability to fry chicken, you bet I would fry chicken. I just don’t,” Sanchez says. “I can take the chicken and waffles off the menu, or I can buy an inferior frozen product from Sysco, or I can do this. When we were a bakery, we wholesaled. We sold the biscuits we make here, and other people took them, and used them, and said they were their own ‘scratch biscuits.’ I’ve never done that.”
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