In part it’s because the Popeye in the name refers to Popeye Doyle, not Popeye the Sailor.
However, since the sailor was previously part of the marketing, it’s really because they no longer own the rights to use the character.
You might be surprised to learn that Popeyes Restaurant is not actually named after the spinach-loving cartoon sailor named Popeye.
In fact, it’s reported that founder Al Copeland named his restaurant after Gene Hackman’s character Popeye Doyle from the 1971 film The French Connection.
That didn’t stop the chain from later obtaining the rights to use Popeye the Sailor in their campaigns.
In 1977, the chicken chain confused things slightly by entering into an agreement to use the comic Popeye and his friends in its ads — a campaign that would last 35 years. The annual $1.1 million contract was terminated in 2012.
So, the real reason is that they no longer have the contract rights to use Popeye’s image.
Bonus Biscuit – Why no apostrophe?
This is something that has bugged me for a while. The restaurant should be using the possessive form of Popeye – Popeye’s – in the name, but instead, they are seemingly using the plural form.
It’s as if it is the restaurant of more than one Popeye (which it kind of is, as described above). However, that’s apparently not the reason.
According to Thrillist’s list of 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Popeyes, “Copeland always joked that he was “too poor” to afford one when he started out…“.
It’s a pretty unsatisfying explanation, but it’s the best one we could find.
It turns out that Tim Hortons has a better explanation for not having an apostrophe.