by Aaron Burns

MOORESVILLE – Lake Norman’s fried chicken fast food market includes staples like KFC, Bojangles’ and Chick-fil-A.

Popeyes Louisiana Chicken will soon be a part of the equation.

The Sandy Springs, Ga.-based chain -– whose only location in the area is in the food court at Concord Mills – will open a Popeyes restaurant at 379 W. Plaza Drive.

Jack in the Box, another fast food franchise, previously occupied the building.

Alicia Thompson, a spokeswoman for Popeyes, said the Mooresville location will open soon.

“We are currently under construction in Mooresville with a scheduled opening before the end of the year,” she said. Popeyes has more than 2,000 franchises in the U.S. and abroad.

Increased revenue in the U.S. and overseas has enabled Popeyes to expand its base.

AFC Enterprises, the franchisor and operator of Popeyes, reported a net income of $6.9 million for the third quarter of 2012, a $1.1 million increase from the same time in 2011.

Popeyes opened 42 restaurants in the U.S. during the third quarter. The company’s $21.8 million net income as of Sept. 30 was a $3.3 million increase compared to last year.

But Popeyes’ company-owned franchises have dropped in recent years. The company owned 95 franchises in 2003, but that number fell to 37 by 2010, according to an Entrepreneur.com report.

That number has increased to 40 after AFC opened new company-owned restaurants in New Orleans and Indianapolis, according to a March report by Nation’s Restaurant News. Popeyes’ focus has been on expanding its brand in new locations all year. The new restaurant in Indianapolis was the first Popeyes to enter the city.

The seven-year drop in company-owned franchises did nothing to dispel Popeyes’ desire to move to the Lake Norman area, which has been dominated by Charlotte-based Bojangles’ in the fried chicken market.

Bojangles’ has roughly 500 franchises, a much smaller number than Popeyes, in 10 states. The restaurant owns 185 of its franchises, many of which are located in the Charlotte region.

So, why start a new restaurant in Mooresville to compete with a known local product?

It’s simple, Mooresville-South Iredell Chamber of Commerce President Kirk Ballard said. More people are moving to the town and bringing with them a hunger for more fast food options – and more jobs.

“The population of Mooresville has doubled in the past few years,” Ballard said. “We’ve seen a lot of growth and (restaurant companies) see that. Every one of the restaurants coming to the area leads to hiring local individuals for positions. Those jobs are helping the economy.”

Facts about Popeyes Louisiana Chicken

• The Mooresville franchise, slated to open in late December, will be the first in the Lake Norman area, located at 379 W. Plaza Drive

• Popeyes has more than 2,060 franchises in 40 states and 26 countries, including Turkey, Bahrain, China, Hong Kong and Canada.

• The number of Popeyes U.S. franchises rose by 215 from 1,324 in 2003 to 1,539 in 2010 (source: Entrepreneur.com).

• The company, founded in Louisiana, celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.