AFC Enterprises Inc. has changed its name and stock ticker to reflect the fact that it’s the parent of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.

The Atlanta-based company’s name is now Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen Inc. Its stock symbol is now PLKI, replacing its previous ticker, AFCE, on the NASDAQ exchange, effective today.

Cheryl Bachelder, the company’s chief executive officer, rang the starting bell at the NASDAQ exchange this morning to celebrate the change.

“The Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen name has been used in our restaurants since 2008. This name is among the most visible expressions of our Louisiana heritage and differentiates Popeyes in the marketplace,” Bachelder said in a release. “With this name change, we continue to leverage our brand identity and the strategy that has driven our industry-leading results.”

AFC, which stands for “America’s Favorite Chicken,” has been the name of Popeyes’ parent company since the mid-1990s, when it was the holding company of multiple brands. In 2004 it decided to concentrate on Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits, and changed that chain’s name to Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in 2008.

Bachelder said AFC’s name change comes at a time when the company is “right at the cusp of being $1 billion in enterprise value.” She noted, “That puts us in a bigger league for investment and for brand recognition. We wanted to make it easy for people to join us in the growth journey we’re on, find our stock, participate, share in the good upside that we believe we still have.”

For its most recent quarter, ended Dec. 29, Popeyes reported global same-store sales growth of 0.8 percent and a same-store sales increase of 3.7 percent for the fiscal year.

The company opened 194 new locations during the year — more than in any single year in the past 15 years. Popeyes closed 68 units during the year for a net growth of 126 restaurants.

Bachelder said she believes the chain still has the opportunity to more than double its size in the United States and also grow internationally. “Very few U.S. chains have that kind of runway still in front of them, so I think to get the name right today sets us up well in the future.”

She said there were “very few” markets in the U.S. that didn’t have room for more Popeyes, noting that they were currently building restaurants in Charlotte, N.C.; Indianapolis; Salt Lake City; and Los Angeles and were also scouting locations in the Boston Metropolitan area. “Last year, we built out Minneapolis from 1 to 14 restaurants,” she added. “Internationally, I just came back from Lima, Peru, where we’ve opened 12 [units]. … They’re lined up in the streets there to taste our chicken.”

In 2014, the company plans to continue with their remodeling with updated signage and the addition of televisions to make the restaurants “a more comfortable environment for you to enjoy your food,” according to Bachelder, who noted that customers who eat in the restaurants “tend to go back for more,” thus boosting average checks.

About 60 percent of the system is now remodeled, and the company plans to bring that to 80 percent by the end of 2014. “It usually takes five to seven years [for a quick service chain] to remodel. We’re doing it in three,” Bachelder said, noting that speed was possible because the cost of remodeling was relatively low at around $120,000 per unit and because business is good.

“Sales are up and profits are good, and so most of our franchisees have remodeled out of cash and feel very good about the future of the brand,” she said. “We had a slogan that said: ‘Sales first, signs second,’ and we honored that for our owners, so they were in a healthy business position at the time of the remodel.”

Popeyes operates and franchises 2,225 quick-service restaurants in the United States, three territories and 28 countries.

Update: Jan. 21, 2014  This story has been updated to include additional comments and information from an interview with CEO Cheryl Bachelder.

Contact Bret Thorn: bret.thorn@penton.com.
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