Tower of Strength

From atop the Copeland Tower, Al Copeland Jr. successfully manages his family’s various companies.
Cheryl Gerber
The main conference room displays plaques outlining the company’s core values under a toast Al Copeland Sr. would make before each each of his powerboat races.

While sitting in his new office, overlooking a panoramic view of Jefferson Parish and the New Orleans skyline, Al Copeland Jr. shares his vision for Al Copeland Investments (ACI). The management company for the Al Copeland Family of Companies, it includes restaurants, hotels, and Diversified Foods & Seasonings, a food manufacturer.

ACI is located in the newly-named Copeland Tower, the easily recognizable round building at 2601 Severn Ave., just off Interstate 10 and Causeway Boulevard. Having undergone a $16.4 million renovation, it is a big contrast from the small, windowless office on what was then known as Airline Highway, which housed his famous father’s headquarters back when Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits consisted of three fast food restaurants and a big dream.

Today, at 52, Copeland takes pride in being his father’s namesake. It is his steady hand that successfully guides the ACI empire, ever mindful to pay tribute to his legendary father.

“Al Copeland Investments is a privately owned, multifaceted management company, where my chief responsibilities consist of managing the ACI Restaurant Group, Diversified Food & Seasonings manufacturing operation, and Copeland’s Hotel Division.” he says.

Included in the empire are 20 Copeland’s of New Orleans locations throughout Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Georgia. Another location in Longview, Texas recently opened.

“We also have four Cheesecake Bistro by Copeland’s located in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Bossier City and Atlanta, along with our two ‘fast casual’ restaurant concepts — Copeland’s Gourmet Kitchen and a Cheesecake Scoop Café — both located inside the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport,” Copeland says. “What may not be well-known to the general public is that our Diversified Foods & Seasonings now has three plants that are located in Madisonville, Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama; and Nebraska City, Nebraska.


LEFT: Al Copeland Jr., president and CEO of Al Copeland Investments, sits between a commanding desk and photographs of his five daughters (left to right) – Allison, Ashley, Alexandria, Ariel and Alyssa. RIGHT: The newly-named Copeland Tower on Severn Avenue in Metairie just underwent a $16.4 million renovation. The top floor is now headquarters of Al Copeland Investments.

On the restaurant side, ACI keeps one of its offerings very close. Located within the Copeland Tower, Best Western Landmark Plus Hotel & Suites is a full-service operation with 156 guestrooms, 95 new condo-style suites, a grand ballroom, new breakout meeting spaces, exercise facilities and free parking,

“What we have done here is a wonderful addition to the convention and visitors market, as well as for the leisure traveler,” he says. Other hotels in the ACI stable include Best Western Plus French Quarter Landmark Hotel on North Rampart Street and the Clarion Hotel Grand Boutique on St. Charles Avenue.

On Copeland’s oversize curved desk in his new headquarters, the chairman and CEO likes to keep things simple with only a nameplate, a business card holder, pencil box, telephone and a framed $2 bill that reads, “The strength of a group is founded in the character of its leaders.” Behind his desk are large photographs of his five daughters.

Across from the desk lies a large conference table and two bookcases where he displays his mementos, including photographs of his two grandsons – Hayden and Liam – a photo of Liz, his wife of almost 32 years, and his his sports collectibles.

“It’s ideal to have a place to spread things out on a large table and to call a quick impromptu meeting.”

“We are proud to be longtime sponsors of the Saints, and we have always been fans of the team,” he says, pointing out the window toward the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Although there are large and small meeting rooms included in the new office, Copeland likes to have a conference table right in his office. “It’s ideal to have a place to spread things out on a large table and to call a quick impromptu meeting,” he says

There is no mistaking that Copeland pays constant tribute to his father. A wall of framed montages of historic company photos surround a portrait of his father as a young man in the reception area of the headquarters. Inspirational plaques hang under a sign in the main conference room that read, “TO THE WIN!” – a toast Copeland Sr. made before each powerboat race

Probably the most unusual item in the offices is the pedestal of dual lions that support a glass top in the main conference room — a seemingly fitting symbol of the father and son who have led the company since it was founded in 1972.

LEFT: Curved slatted architectural features designate the seating area of the reception area. RIGHT: A group of historical photos with a portrait of Al Copeland Sr. in the middle is featured in the reception area.

For Copeland, one of the joys of his new space is the natural light.

“The executive offices on both Airline and Elmwood were windowless,” he says. “I enjoy having lots of windows where I can take in the view for miles,” he says. “I even like the rainy days from my 17th-floor vantage point.”

The Copeland brand has seen its share of rainy days. His father’s financial woes made national news in 1993 when the company was purchased by AFC Enterprises.

Copeland is quick to point out there was a silver lining behind the cloud of selling the company. “We retained the rights to the fried chicken recipe and eventually sold it for $43 million,” he says. “The sale of the secret recipe benefited my father’s family estate. For our family, it was a wonderful deal, as it was for the now Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen that today has over 2,000 restaurants in almost every state and more than two dozen countries…I saw it as a win-win — moving the recipe from one vault to another.”

Although his dad was the boss, Copeland received no special treatment.

“I worked for my father from the time I was 12 years old, mopping floors, taking out the trash, then moving up to working in the kitchen,” he says. “My big break came when I moved up to the role of assistant manager of a Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits.”

LEFT: The reception desk greets visitors to the top floor. RIGHT: The small conference room is known as the “Operations Think Tank,” and is used for quick, open meetings that can take place throughout the day. The words on the wall are designed to help spark ideas.

Prior to becoming CEO of ACI, Copeland served as the senior executive vice president of Copeland’s Restaurants, where he provided leadership and direction for the marketing, operations, purchasing and research aspects of the fully franchised restaurant division. “I still personally own three Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen franchises in Marrero, Harvey and Avondale,” he says.

Today, Copeland also enjoys his duties as head of the Al Copeland Foundation (ACF), a nonprofit that supports local research for cancer, the disease that led to his father’s death on Easter Sunday 2008. “My father had a rare form of cancer called merkel cell carcinoma,” he says. “He aggressively fought the rare disease and died in Germany, where he had traveled to seek the latest treatment.”

Copeland is ever mindful that it takes teamwork to make both ACI and ACF successful, “ACI wouldn’t be as successful as it is today without the people at the corporate headquarters who oversee the daily operations of all of our entities and are the heartbeat of the company.” Pausing to reflect on the many worthy projects ACF has supported, he adds, “We have many people to thank for their support to make our foundation’s fight against cancer successful at events, such as its annual golf classic and Krewe du Cure.”


Categories: Food, The Magazine