By 9:30 a.m. Friday, the parking lot at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen was about full.
By 9:45 a.m., a line of 50 people had formed at the door.
By 10 a.m., when the doors opened, a string of cars stretched down North Point Boulevard as they lined up for the drive-thru.
At one point Friday morning, 25 vehicles were parked at the North Point Family Fare BP at 7765 N. Point Blvd., said Andrew Colon, the owner of the business. Popeyes’ customers parked there and walked to the nearby restaurant. Colon said the cars weren’t a problem because they didn’t block the gas pumps.
A passing motorist called 911 about 2:30 p.m. Friday to report many vehicles parked at businesses near the restaurant. A Winston-Salem police officer was dispatched to check on that report, said Chad Higgins, a public-safety communications supervisor in the Burke Public Safety Center.
A few people took time off work. Several high schoolers skipped out on their free periods — or more.
It was all part of opening day at the Winston-Salem Popeyes at 7791 North Point Blvd.
Winston-Salem has been starved for Popeyes ever since the one on the campus of Winston-Salem State University was replaced by a Chick-fil-A in 2017.
“I have been coming here every day for two weeks. I’ve been waiting for this,” said Malaka Williams, the second person in line at the new Popeyes.
“I don’t even eat fried food, but I want to try the chicken sandwich,” said Tina Marsh as she waited to get in. “I just want to see what all the talk is about.”
The interest in Popeyes has been heightened since Aug, 12, when Popeyes introduced its first chicken sandwich — and ignited a Twitter war with competitor Chick-fil-A. Part of the social-media barrage involved people coming out in favor of Popeyes because they objected to Chick-fil-A’s support for anti-LGBTQ organizations.
Demand for Popeyes’ sandwich was so heavy that the company announced Aug. 27 that it was sold out. The company reportedly sold what it thought was two months’ supply in two weeks.
Popeyes reintroduced the sandwich on Nov. 3 — not so coincidentally a Sunday, when Chick-fil-A restaurants are closed.
Demand was just as high with the reintroduction of the sandwich, producing long lines at many locations. In one instance, that led to violence. Police in Upper Marlboro, Md., reported a fatal stabbing after a confrontation between two Popeyes customers — one of whom apparently cut in line in front of the other.
At the Winston-Salem Popeyes, the opening appeared peaceful and orderly. Customers didn’t seem to care much about any controversy. They were there to eat.
“This is my favorite place,” said Pat Bullock, the first person in line Friday and someone happy she didn’t have to drive to Greensboro anymore. “The chicken is so good,” she said. “And I like that it tastes just as good when you heat it up the next day.”
Like Bullock, Samuel Sutton was glad he could get his Popeyes fix without a drive to Greensboro or Mocksville, the location of the other nearest Popeyes.
“I’ve been feeling deprived in Winston-Salem,” said Sutton, a senior at Wake Forest University who is from Little Rock, Ark. “At home there are three Popeyes within 10 minutes of me.”
Popeyes was founded in 1972 in New Orleans and now has its headquarters in Miami. The company says on its website that it has more than 2,700 locations across the United States and around the world.
Originally known as Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits and Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken & Biscuits, it has been called Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen since 2008.
Popeyes is the nation’s third-largest chicken chain, with $3.2 billion in sales, according to an article in the Oct. 7, 2019, edition of Nation’s Restaurant News. It trails Chick-fil-A ($10.5 billion) and ($4.4 billion).
Popeyes has been having a good year. Since the sandwich was introduced this summer, Popeyes “had one of its best quarters in two decades,” Jose Cil, the chief executive officer of Restaurant Brands International, Popeyes’ parent company, said Oct. 28 in an earnings statement. Comparable sales for the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30, were up 9.7%, almost double what analysts had projected, according to Consensus Metrix, and significantly higher than the 0.5% growth in the year ago period.
Popeyes has always been known for its fried chicken, which it says is marinated for at least 12 hours and cooked with Louisiana spices.
Its signature chicken is bone-in, skin-on chicken, but it also sells tenders and boneless wings, as well as the boneless-breast sandwich, which comes in Classic and Spicy ($3.99). A $10 tenders box includes six tenders, two sides and two biscuits.
In addition to all the chicken, Popeyes sells fried popcorn shrimp — a quarter-pound’s worth for $6.19 with one side and biscuit.
Still, most people come for the chicken.
“It’s the seasoning. It’s the crunch. It’s the lack of grease,” said Niiesha Beauford, who grew up eating at Popeyes in the Bronx, N.Y.
“It’s better than Chick-fil-A,” said Eric Khalouf, a senior at WFU who has tried both sandwiches. “It’s the combination of spices, and I like the bun. Also, the chicken stays crunchy.”
And, according to Dee Currence, it was worth the wait.
Currence and her friend Johnny Burris picked up nine sandwiches for themselves and friends.
“I had to park across the street and wait in line,” Currence said, “but I will come back.”
N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper — as expected — vetoed three minibudget bills Friday, two of which he considers as providing inadequate pay raises for public-school teachers and other state educators.
Cooper, a Democrat, has recommended a pay raise of between 8.5% and 9.1% for teachers over the two-year state budget period.
Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 354, which both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly approved on Oct. 31, contains a 3.9% pay raise and a 4.4% raise in supplement pay, the latter only effective if the GOP-controlled Senate is successful in overriding Cooper’s veto of the state budget legislation, House Bill 966.
The pay raises in SB354 would be 2% in 2019-20 and 1.9% in 2020-21. The 2019-20 raise would be made retroactive to July 1.
Cooper also vetoed SB578, which would reduce the state’s corporate franchise tax rate and includes language extending the state’s film-grant program. Cooper has called the GOP-sponsored franchise tax-rate cut “irresponsible.”
Another minibudget bill that Cooper vetoed is HB398, the information-technology budget, which contains $10 million in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 state budgets dedicated to a cybersecurity-development initiative at private Montreat College in Black Mountain.
That brings Cooper’s veto count to 14 for the 2019 session.
At full attendance, Republicans need at least one Senate Democrat and at least seven House Democrats to support a vote to override a Cooper veto.
Cooper said during a news conference in which he was accompanied by public-school teachers that Republican legislative leaders need “to negotiate on a real pay raise for all educators on the state payroll.”
A statement from Cooper’s office said the vetoed bills “are not good enough for the people who work hard to prepare students for a bright future, as they are far less than the raises approved for other state employees.”
The N.C. Association of Educators responded to the pay-supplemental offer on Oct. 30 by calling it “wildly insulting to educators of every level.”
Mark Jewell, the association’s president, said that “even with these proposed increases, education support professionals would still be getting less than other state employees have already received, and our retirees are ignored entirely.”
Citing an Oct. 18 letter he sent to GOP legislative leaders, Cooper said that “I will negotiate the pay raises of teachers and other educators separate and apart from Medicaid expansion.”
Cooper has cited the lack of Medicaid-expansion legislation that could affect 450,000 to 650,000 North Carolinians as a primary reason for vetoing the GOP-drafted state budget compromise.
“I urge all legislators from both parties to help us come together and support our teachers,” Cooper said Friday.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and other Republican legislative leaders have presented their offers of 3.9% and 4.9% pay raises — the latter made on Thursday — as all-or-nothing propositions for public-school teachers.
“Teachers are told to be good, loyal Democrats and their union and their governor will take care of them,” Berger said in a statement.
“But they need to ask themselves: ‘What has Roy Cooper ever done for me?’
“He’s vetoed every single teacher pay raise that’s come across his desk, and he chose today to give teachers nothing for the next two years.”
Berger claims Cooper “uses teachers as pawns, blocking their pay increases then trying to convince them it’s all the Republicans’ fault. At some point, they’ll see his cynical ploy for what it really is.”
State Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, said Cooper has “disappointed a lot of people today in vetoing these bills,” in particularly those providing salary increases.
“The governor has, once again, denied teachers the pay raise they deserve,” Krawiec said.
Cooper spokeswoman Dory MacMillan responded to the GOP legislators’ criticism by saying “every Republican budget since 2011 has shortchanged North Carolina teachers.”
“Gov. Cooper will always stand up for teachers, and teachers stand with him because they can see through the smoke and mirrors in the legislation vetoed today,” MacMillan said.
Cooper made separate comments about the two pay-raise bills:
SB354: “The General
Cooper had until Monday to decide whether to sign SB354, veto it, or let it become law without his signature, which he has done with two bills this session.
“It’s no surprise that Gov. Cooper vetoed bills addressing disputed pay raises,” said Mitch Kokai, a senior policy analyst with the John Locke Foundation, a conservative-leaning research group based in Raleigh. “It would have been hard for him to sign these measures after spending months criticizing Republicans for not meeting his demands. Signing the measures would have amounted to a clear admission of political defeat.”
Kokai said that “it remains to be seen who will benefit and lose from this latest development.”
“The governor and his team will blame Republicans for not accepting his proposals. GOP legislative leaders will respond — with truth on their side — that Democrats are the only ones who have voted this year against pay raises and increased funding for items both sides have labeled as priorities,” Kokai said.
On Thursday, a statement from Berger’s office contained a proposal that would up the teacher raise to 4.9% for all teachers, as well as a $1,000 bonus. The chairs of the Senate Appropriations Committee said the proposal was made earlier this week to Democratic Senate leaders Dan Blue and Darren Jackson, both of Wake County.
Berger’s office has not responded to a request to disclose the proposal.
According to John Dinan, a political-science professor at Wake Forest University and a national expert on state legislatures, splitting the difference between Republican and Democratic positions on teacher pay “has always been the obvious way to negotiate an end to the monthslong budget standoff,”
“The governor may have to go just a bit further than the helpful statement he has provided with this veto,” ,” Dinan said, “by saying explicitly that he is prepared to put off the Medicaid-expansion debate for another time and is willing to sign a budget or allow teacher pay increases to be approved even if Medicaid expansion is not approved.”
If Cooper is willing to take that step, “I don’t see a reason why there couldn’t be a compromise on the level of the teacher pay increase.:”
“It’s true that there is a fair amount of daylight between the governor’s ideal pay raise and what legislative leaders have proposed; but this does not seem an insurmountable gap, as long as there is a good amount of movement from both sides.”
Kokai said the latest adjournment resolution allowing for a Nov. 13 session gives GOP legislative leaders “some wiggle room” to tackle legislation other than the court-ordered redrawing of congressional districts because of bias. The resolution does not allow for consideration of vetoed bills until the next legislative session, scheduled to begin Jan. 14.
“I doubt we’ll see votes on any additional veto overrides unless Republicans can convince Democrats to break with Gov. Cooper,” Kokai said.
“The budget bill remains the highest-priority item. The minibudgets addressing pay raises for teachers and others would be tied to the budget discussion.
“Beyond that, other vetoed measures would carry higher priorities for different legislators based on subject matter.”
House Republican leaders waited 76 days to hold veto-override votes of HB966 and HB555 in a controversial manner Sept. 11. Most Democratic members were not on the floor because they said they had been told by Republican House leadership that no votes would be taken during the first session that day.
HB555 contains $218 million in startup funding for the Medicaid managed-care transition currently slated to begin Feb. 1.
By comparison, the HB966 and HB555 override votes were on the Senate floor agenda only four days before the Oct. 31 adjournment.
Berger released a statement Oct. 31 saying that through the minibudget process, the legislature has “passed funding that totals 98.5% of the original $24 billion (budget) it passed in June.”
Eight schools in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system have been put on notice that they need to improve their academic performance over the next few years or they could be turned over to an outside group such as a charter school operator.
State education officials released on Thursday a list of 69 schools statewide that qualified for inclusion in an improvement program called the 2019 N.C. Innovative School District. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County had the most schools on the list of any district in the state. Forsyth was followed in the number of listed schools by Nash-Rocky Mount, which had seven; Guilford County, which had six; and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, which had four schools.
The local schools on the list are Philo-Hill Magnet Academy with a school performance grade of 25 out of a possible 100, based on last year’s test scores; Kimberley Park Elementary, 32; Ibraham Elementary, 33; Petree Elementary, 33; Ashley Academy, 34; Easton Elementary School, 36; Old Town Elementary, 39; and Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy, 39.
Superintendent Angela P. Hairston said in a statement Friday that she believes the schools can be turned around.
“Since Day 1 as superintendent, I have been committed to working with all schools with a special focus on our under-performing schools,” said Hairston, who came on board as WS/FCS superintendent Sept. 3. “To date, each school has participated in the development of new school improvement plans.”
The Innovative School District, created in 2016, is a division of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
“The ISD was created to improve student outcomes in low-performing schools by partnering with local communities to design and implement strategies for school improvement and creating innovative conditions that help accelerate student growth and achievement,” said David Prickett, communications and strategy manager for the N.C. Innovative School District.
Prickett said ISD’s approach is to “identify and target barriers to student growth — both inside and outside the classroom — and design strategies and processes to eliminate or mitigate these barriers.”
The next step for the schools on the list depends on the fate of Senate Bill 522, which revises the Innovative School District’s Qualifying School Criteria. The bill will become law on Monday unless Gov. Roy Cooper vetoes the legislation. State education officials were hopeful that the bill will not be vetoed.
The bill defines a “qualifying school” as one with a school performance score in the lowest performing 5% of all schools and also receiving Title 1 federal money.
It also creates a new multi-year system for determining which schools will be added in the future: If a school is on the qualifying list for a second year in a row, it goes on a watch list. That school then goes on a warning list if it makes the qualifying list a third year in a row. The five lowest performing schools that were on the warning list the previous year and are on the qualifying list four years in a row will be chosen as ISD schools for the following school year.
Hairston said she received a call and a letter from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction about the local schools on the 2019 N.C. Innovative School District list.
“I have specifically worked with these eight schools in a number of ways to address their individual challenges, to make them strong, thriving learning environments for students,” Hairston said.
She said that in her 10 weeks as superintendent she has visited all of the schools on the list, except Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy, but has met with all of the principals at those schools.
“We have had extensive school-improvement training for them, trying to really work with them on areas of improvement and writing a plan for improvement,” Hairston said.
She said that the district has also worked with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to make sure the plans are focused.
“It is clear that students in each of the school’s communities will require additional wraparound services and systems of academic support if they are to truly meet with high levels of success,” Hairston said. “I am committed to working with the principals and their respective communities to identify and provide the additional supports needed in each community. As superintendent, I will meet with each school’s staff and parent community.”
Hairston stressed the importance of the community coming together at this time to support all children.
“Conversations are underway about ways we can partner to provide each school with unique, specialized services that will help students and families,” she said.
Hairston said that many of the children at the underperforming schools need tutoring.
“We are working on a mentoring program to mentor a lot of our children in our schools,” she said.
She added that she and the members of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education are not ones for making excuses.
“We are going to put a lot of energy behind our children in all schools, but specifically in these eight schools to work with our community on wraparound services,” Hairston said.
Plans are to work closely with classroom teachers to make sure they have the right support in place, as well as to look critically at leadership and provide support for the leaders in these school communities.
“This is a call to our faith-based community and our business community to partner with the schools that have been identified to do as much as they can to support children,” Hairston said. “This is our future here.”
Hairston said she is disappointed to have schools on this list but she is still encouraged by the positive energy aimed at supporting all children in the district’s schools.
“I am also encouraged by the time we have been granted to turn our schools in a new direction,” she said. “We are proceeding with a great sense of urgency. Not one student or adult in our district has time to waste.”
Nine SunTrust Banks Inc. branches in the Triad will be sold to First Horizon National Corp. to secure U.S. Justice Department regulatory approval of the proposed Truist Financial Corp.
BB&T Corp. and SunTrust must receive approval from Justice, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Federal Reserve to complete the $30.4 billion megadeal they announced in February.
The Justice approval addresses anti-trust concerns.
The Winston-Salem branches affected by the divestiture are at 2006 S. Hawthorne Road, 2801 Reynolda Road, 101 S. Stratford Road, and 4306 N. Liberty St.
The other five branches are: 5361 U.S. 158 in Bermuda Run; 1000 S. Main St. in Kernersville; 880 Yadkinville Road in Mocksville; 2820 Old Hollow Road in Walkertown; and 200 S. State St. in Yadkinville.
With the transaction, First Horizon would go from four to eight branches in Winston-Salem and from six to 11 in Forsyth County.
SunTrust was required by Justice to divest 28 SunTrust branches in North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia that represented a combined $2.3 billion in deposits.
The banks said separately First Horizon is gaining 30 branches and $2.4 billion in deposits from SunTrust.
The divested assets will include all deposits and loans associated with the branches. First Horizon, based in Memphis, Tenn., is expected to take over the branches in early 2020.
“We are committed to working with First Horizon to ensure a smooth transition for these clients following the close of the divestiture,” SunTrust spokeswoman Sue Mallino said when asked what those SunTrust branch customers are required to do to remain a SunTrust customer or become one of Truist.
BB&T and SunTrust have said they expect to close on the megadeal and start the integration of Truist by the end of the year, although acknowledging it could take into early 2020.
“This announcement marks another significant and required step” in the formation of Truist, said Kelly King, BB&T’s chairman and chief executive, who will have the same titles with Truist.
King told analysts on Oct. 16 that “we believe we are still on track for closing in the fourth quarter, but we can’t guarantee that ... because it is out of our control.”
The banks gained approval for the merger from the N.C. Commissioner of Banks on July 10 and near unanimous approval from their respective shareholders July 30.
“The next step is approval of our divestment plan by (U.S. Justice Department) and then we believe the remaining regulatory approvals will follow,” King told analysts.
BB&T and SunTrust said they had at least 740 branches within a two-mile radius of each other, with the majority likely to be consolidated into one branch or divested as in the First Horizon transaction.
Justice officials said in a statement the divestiture constitutes the largest divestiture in a bank merger in more than a decade — not surprising given the megadeal would be the largest since the Great Recession of 2008-11 and form the sixth-largest U.S. bank at $463.7 billion in total assets.
The other metro markets affected by the SunTrust branch divestiture are in Durham-Chapel Hill, Eastern Shore, Va., Patrick County, Va. Franklin County, Va., Henry County/city of Martinsville, Va., and Lumpkin County, Ga.
“Banks and the financial sector are at the heart of our economy,” Makan Delrahim, Justice’s assistant attorney general for its antitrust division, said in a statement.
“Today’s settlement ensures that banking customers across Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia will continue to have access to competitively priced banking products, including loans to small businesses, while preserving the investments in innovation and technology this merger is expected to generate.”
First Horizon plans to keep all SunTrust employees in the branches.
“First Horizon is excited to welcome new employees and customers to our family,” Bryan Jordan, First Horizon’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.
“We look forward to working with BB&T and SunTrust to design a seamless onboarding experience.”
Bill Rogers, SunTrust’s chairman and chief executive, said the bank “is pleased to have found a buyer that will retain the jobs of talented teammates and continue to foster the strong client relationships we have established in these branches.” Rogers would serve as Truist’s president at completion of the megadeal.
BB&T shareholders would own 57% of Truist. The combined bank would have its headquarters in Charlotte, with its community-banking division based in Winston-Salem and its wholesale-banking division in Atlanta.
The banks say it could take 12 to 24 months after closing to integrate the operating systems, including branch networks. Truist would have a presence in 17 states, stretching from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to Texas, but foremost in the Southeast.
King said Feb. 7, when the deal was announced, that “if you are a client-facing associate and doing a good job, then your job is assured.”
The reality is the Triad will lose several hundred BB&T corporate-headquarters jobs to Charlotte, along with the entire executive-management team moving there as a result of the merger.
Winston-Salem would probably keep thousands of community bank and other affiliated jobs, likely moving similar SunTrust jobs here as BB&T wholesale-banking jobs go to Atlanta.