RESTAURATEUR, QUIET HUMANITARIAN, AND INSPIRATION TO MANY
Charles Copeland, a restaurateur known for his brilliant business sense and
extravagant lifestyle, passed away on Easter Sunday March 23, 2008 outside of
Munich, Germany of complications from treatment of Merkel Cell Carcinoma, an
extremely rare and aggressive cancer. He was 64.
shortly before Thanksgiving, Al approached his last battle like a true
champion. As was genuinely his nature, Al researched every available treatment
and sought out the very best methods available. Although he was quite ill
toward the end of his life, Al never thought of himself as suffering. He would
say that his ordeal, although truly painful and tedious, was “nothing”. “People
go through much worse every day,” he would say.
was the way he viewed things. Al Copeland was grateful for everything he had
despite his vast resources. He wanted to help everyone and more importantly
feed everyone. In fact, every time one of his grandchildren was born, Al would
bring Popeyes chicken to the entire floor of the hospital. Even when he was ill
himself, the nurses got chicken.
was a local icon, the stuff of legends. A folk hero, he lived his dreams. He
found success in adversity and good fortune in family. He had a joyous time
doing it. Controversy only engaged his competitive spirit. He loved spice and
speed,” said Kit Wohl, Al’s longtime friend.
course, Al is most famous for founding Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken and
developing its well-known and loved recipe (still a closely guarded secret). He
was the “come back kid”; a true rags-to-riches success story. In addition to
his more famous accomplishments, there were many lesser-known sides to his
instance, a huge part of him was dedicated to charity and to the improvement of
his beloved city and state.
1989, the $1 million Alvin C. Copeland Endowed Chair of Franchising was
established at Louisiana State University. As part of the Eminent Scholars
Program, the endowment provides for the development of a full curriculum of
franchising studies at both the undergraduate and graduate level. As a result,
June 28, 1989 was named “Al Copeland Day” in both the city of New Orleans and
the state of Louisiana.
also supported other education programs such as the National Food Service
Institute, the Chefs Apprentice Program at Delgado Community College, and the
IFA to name a few.
was also famous for his elaborate decorations at his Metairie home. However,
his love of Christmas extended much deeper than that. It was his greatest joy
to personally hand out candy canes and stuffed animals to the children who came
by to see the decorations.
was also his secret Santa program that went on for a number of years. “I want
to give 1,000 children a real Christmas,” he said. “Santa and his elf should
ring the doorbell after dark on Christmas Eve,” he specified, “They must have a
sack of presents, wrapped and labeled by name—a big gift and some small ones
and a stocking for each child. The elf must have a camera, to take two
photographs. One for the family and one for me.”
meant more than 3,000 gifts, 1,000 Christmas stockings, cameras, elves, and
Santas complete with costumes. He inspected every gift, discarding some as not
big enough, exciting, or special. An entire floor at Popeye’s headquarters was
dedicated to a massive corporate “wrap-a-thon” between Thanksgiving and the
week before Christmas. The Knights of Columbus and Knights of Peter Claver
identified the families by Catholic Parish, and provided a list of names, ages,
addresses, and telephone numbers to call the families in advance.
refused media coverage for the event. He felt it would spoil the mystery of
Santa Claus for children.
Copeland never did anything on a small scale. Everything had to be the best,
and he had to be the best at everything. He was known worldwide for his
activities in the sport of offshore powerboat racing. Driving his boats to
unprecedented fame in racing history, he brought fun and show business to the
sport. He won the internationally prestigious Harmsworth Trophy, the coveted
World Championship, and the National US #1 high point championship six out of
six times running. He went on to help found the new powerboat association.
crew and friends used inappropriate language on the race site, he would take a
$100 bill from the offender (he often had to pay the fine himself). On the way
out of town, he would stop at a Catholic Church and stuff the poor box.
Copeland took joy in shaking things up. After the famous war of words with
author Anne Rice, he threw garlic from his converted boat during the Mardi Gras
public battle was over tomatoes. The late Johnny Becnel was well known for the
kickoff to the Creole tomato season, showing up at the French Market annually
to auction off the first Plaquemines Parish Creoles of the year. Al Copeland
and Paul Prudhomme duked it out at the auction, ending up at an astonishing
$10,000 for the first case, then as gentlemen, split it. The money went to
Becnel’s workers, who tended the crop and the tomatoes to Copeland’s
Restaurants and K-Paul’s.
won numerous awards as well. The International Franchise Association named him
1989 Entrepreneur of the Year. A MUFSO Golden Chain recipient in 1988, he was
named to the Louisiana’s Restaurant Association Hall of Fame in 1995. In
recognition of his many contributions to the community, LRA honored Al Copeland
with their first Service to Humanity Award in 1993, the same year he received
the Lifetime Achievement Award for Popeyes.
Copeland also was an incredibly spiritual person. He traveled to Rome and
visited the Vatican shortly before he sought treatment in Germany. He also
bathed in the healing waters at Lourdes, France. He prayed nightly and went to
Catholic Mass every Sunday.
Copeland inspired a great number of people and touched so many lives. He is
survived not only by his family and friends, but also by the thousands of
people who worked with him around the world, across America, and throughout New
Chris Rose aptly wrote, “He [Al] was our Elvis…The chicken king has left the
parents, William Allen Copeland Jr. and Augusta Marie Comeaux Copeland, and his
brother, William Allen Copeland III, precede Al Copeland in death.
is survived by his beloved children Alvin C. Copeland, Jr., Bonnie Ann
Copeland, Christopher Allen Copeland, Alisha Catherine Copeland, Charlotte
Copeland Womac, Alex Cody Copeland, Chandler Alvin Copeland, Casidy Johnette
Copeland, and Chaz William Copeland, a daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Trentadue
Copeland, a son-in-law, Douglas James Womac, Jr., his grandchildren, Allison
Copeland Fitzsimmons, Christina Copeland Theriot, Ashley Ann Copeland, Crystal
Copeland Theriot, Christen Copeland Theriot, Alexandria Catherine Copeland,
Ariel Lynne Copeland, Candace Copeland Theriot, Alyssa Mary Copeland, Angela
Catherine Bruchis, Christopher Allen Copeland, Jr., Avery Ariel Bruchis, Colin
Douglas Womac, and Addison Kathryn Womac.
is also survived by his brother, Gil Copeland and his two sisters-in-law, Jean
Copeland and Laura Copeland.