Restaurateur Will Bring Popeyes Back To Tyler
By CASEY MURPHY
Lloyd Nichols plans to bring a taste of his South Louisiana roots to Tyler when he opens Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen here this fall.
The franchise will be Nichols' second local business. He opened The Diner in November 2007.
Nichols, 51, started working in the restaurant business as a dishwasher during the summer, a side job to mowing yards, when he was 13 for a local eatery in Houma, La. He worked for grocery stores throughout high school and worked in a restaurant in Huntsville during college.
He grew up in South Louisiana, which is home to Popeyes, until he moved to Houston as a teenager. He met his wife of 28 years, Treso, while they both attended Sam Houston State University. During his six-year college career, during which time he married and had a child, he also worked as a prison guard for six years.
In 1979, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served on active duty until 1980. He was an infantry man, working his way up from private to staff sergeant for a scout platoon and briefly served oversees in Norway. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California during active duty. He remained in the active reserves, with a unit in Houston for 10 years, serving during Desert Storm, and left the military in 1991 after starting to work for Luby's.
After college, Nichols worked for Luby's Cafeteria for 16 years and spent the last six of them in Tyler as a multi-unit manager, managing restaurants in Northeast Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. He and his family, including his children, Julia Claire, 20, and Zachary, 27, moved to Tyler in 2000.
Nichols said he grew tired of traveling frequently for Luby's and wanted to stay home more so he opened his own restaurant, The Diner. He said he wanted a sit-down restaurant and wanted to work with something he knew, which was food made from scratch, but he didn't want it to be a cafeteria. He said The Diner offers family oriented, simple food with a regional flair, such as chicken fried steak, but also offers breakfast food, such as omelets and crepes. The Diner has about 35 employees and business has been good.
"We're still here," he said. "We went through the recession."
Now, Nichols plans to expand his business by opening a Popeyes franchise. The idea actually came from his silent business partner, but Nichols said Popeyes appealed to him because of his South Louisiana roots. He enjoys the spicy chicken and unique sides, such as the red beans and rice, and said he had always eaten at and enjoyed Popeyes. In recent years, the chain has rebranded itself to offering more than just chicken and biscuits. Now called Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, it offers items like catfish, crawfish and shrimp for limited times throughout the year.
"We just wanted something we could grow in East Texas and we think we can grow that brand," he said.
Nichols said he understands there were two Popeyes chains in Tyler that closed down sometime in the 1990s because the owner sold the property after no one in his family wanted to take over the business when he retired.
He said the process to become a franchisee of Popeyes was very quick, only taking a couple of months, but finding land took much longer. He said they spent about 10 months on the first piece of property that they ended up walking away from and had to start over. In January 2011, they sealed the deal on the property at the corner of Loop 323 and Elm Street that will house the restaurant.
This past week, they began demolishing a house on one of the two lots they bought. It will take about two weeks to clean up both lots, one of which is vacant, next to Wingstop near the Wal-Mart on Texas Highway 64 West. The new Popeyes will be at 3820 W. Elm St.
Nichols said they hope to start construction of the building Aug. 1 and have a target date to open the chain in early November, depending on the weather. He plans to have about 25 employees at Popeyes, which will be open seven days a week.
Nichols has plans to eventually open up more than one Popeyes in the area.
"We want to expand in the regional market as opportunity provides," he said.
But they will not be in any hurry. He said they want to get things running at the first restaurant and make sure it is profitable before looking for other opportunities.