Twin Cities, MN – Since taking over 28 KFC locations in late 2013, Popeyes has failed to draw in ethnic Hmong diners. Puzzled as to why, especially since their prices are half of what a Hmong sports tournament vendor charges (a plate of rice and chicken at the July Fourth Freedom Festival costs $10 while the Popeyes equivalent of a two-piece dark meat chicken with mashed potatoes and coleslaw is only $3.49… that’s a 65% discount!), they formed an exploratory team to find out.
Popeyes organized a town hall type meeting with a group of key Hmong leaders. Catering was provided by Popeyes corporate offices who provided chicken while Hmong Women Achieving Together (HWAT) brought rice (individually wrapped in Ziploc bags) for all attendees. The town hall meeting was a success. Everyone was in agreement that there was one important condiment missing from Popeyes menu: Kua Txob!
Kua Txob is a key staple in the Hmong diet. There are only two exceptions where Kua Txob is not served at a meal: the first is the traditional 30 days after a Hmong woman gives birth and must stay on a chicken diet, and the second exception is when you visit a relative, they pack freshly killed boiled chicken with sticky rice which you must eat on the plane during the flight home. Serving a meal in the Hmong culture without Kua Txob could lead to ridicule, being disowned by family members, personal injury, dismemberment, or even death.
Poj Txim Thoj was buying Thai peppers at the Asian market Golden Harvest when he told us,
“Pepper yog number ib, kuv rather eat mov ntse dej with fresh pepper and a side of salt. You can have steak, lobster, crabs, even freshly killed wild boar, but yog koj tsis muaj Kua Txob, don’t call me.”
Popeyes has already installed 56 state of the art tshuaj khib and hired renowned Kua Txob expert Kou Tua Hang to train employees. Everyone who wants to work the Kua Txob station must go through stringent training and pass the Pinch Finger Test or PFT.
“This is an art, the texture must be perfect. The ratio of green onions, cilantro, lime juice, and fish sauce must be precise. That’s how I came up with the PFT. An employee MUST be able to pick up a piece of chicken and the correct amount of Kua Txob between the thumb and pointer finger to pass. If the Kua Txob has been over smashed, not enough Kua Txob will be picked up. Under smashed and they most likely pick up too much. ”
Popeye hopes this new Kua Txob will bring in more customers from the Hmong community. Another change Popeyes will make to the menu when they launch “Kua Txob” is frying chicken leg and thigh as one piece. Olive Bones, Popeyes regional director, says,
“We looked at the feedback cards customers filled out from Popeyes in the area. All who identified themselves as Hmong requested that we keep the leg and thigh as one piece.”
Bla Jue Lee, daily customer at the Maplewood Popeyes since its opening, is extremely excited. Says Lee,
“Oh Em Gee, I can’t wait. I used to bring a little Kua Txob packed in a sheet of foil every day with me when I ate at Popeyes, since I have a gallon tub full of Kua Txob at home. Now I don’t have to worry.”
Only time will tell if Popeyes’s new Kua Txob condiment will attract more Hmong people to their restaurants. What are your thoughts? ■