Chicken Wars Break Out in La Verne, More Cluck for No Bucks!

April 28, 2009
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The line into El Pollo was growing by the minute.

The line into El Pollo was growing by the minute.

It’s still only April, and Californians have already seen an unprecedented number of food freebies, courtesy of Denny’s, Popeye’s, IHOP and KFC.

Today, the latest flame-grilled salvo was fired by El Pollo Loco, which has been giving out a free leg, thigh, tortillas and salsa to every customer asking for the free meal deal at each of its 417 locations in the United States.

Giving people a little cluck for no bucks was certainly a nice gesture on the part of Costa Mesa-based El Pollo chicken, but it’s real motivation was to respond to KFC’s new grilled chicken entrée, which KFC debuted on Monday, by giving a piece to each patron who took the trouble to stand in line.

It was a classic case of two famous fast-food eateries playing a game of chicken. El Pollo couldn’t just meet KFC’s gambit of giving away one free piece of chicken; it decided to one-up its rival and offer two pieces.

“We know El Pollo is the real thing, so we’re not going to let our ‘grilled’ chicken opponents pull the feathers over the public’s eyes,” said Julie Weeks, El Pollo spokesperson.

“All of our chicken is grilled and finished on an open flame to give it that crispy edge on the outside and make it tender on the inside. The competition cooks theirs in an oven with no open flame.”

Certainly, everyone at the La Verne location appreciated that the chicken wars had broken out on their turf. Customers knew something was different even before entering the restaurant. They were greeted by a “brand ambassador,” who normally works as head of El Pollo’s risk management department (Heaven knows El Pollo was giving away a lot of chicken, and there could be some temporary damage to the poultry purveyor’s bottom line).

Asked if the traffic was 10 times the normal flow, he clucked an accountant-like answer: “It’s very busy today,” he said while directing a customer to the bathroom.

Margaret Howells, 21, said she frequently eats at El Pollo Loco and pays about four dollars for her meal. The free meal was a small reward for her loyalty. “I like everything on the menu, but I normally get the two-piece meal deal with two sides, macaroni and mashed potatoes,” she said.

Standing next to Margaret was a man who normally frequents Juan Pollo, another grilled chicken outlet. “Just for today I’m changing my pollos, from Juan to El Pollo,” he said. “I don’t care as long as it’s chicken.”

In the last depression, FDR promised a chicken in every pot. By promising two pieces of chicken on every grill, El Pollo is upholding a great American tradition, with a Mexican accent. The promotion lasts until 8 p.m. today.


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