■ Mary Ann Morris / Editor
Toni Hodnett Austin of Hemet has been asking for a Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen to open in Hemet for three years so she could spend her money locally instead of having to drive to Perris or Beaumont.
“I’m so excited that they finally opened a Popeye’s in Hemet; you need your favorite chicken!” said Austin. “I’ve been having to drive to the location in Perris. I filled out a survey three years ago, begging them to come to Hemet.”
Austin, who neared the front of the line with her husband, was not alone in that sentiment. The line to get in the door snaked around the corner and was packed with hungry Hemet and San Jacinto residents who previously were forced to drive 30 minutes or more to get their Popeye’s fix.
Shanika Newton, 38, of Hemet, was excited that not only did her favorite chicken place come to roost in Hemet, but it brought jobs with it.
“The first job I ever had was with Popeye’s,” she said. “I was 15 and had a work permit.” The experience, which she enjoyed, taught her a lot, she added.
The grand opening, hosted by the Hemet/San Jacinto Valley Chamber of Commerce (HSJVC), had many city officials in attendance, including Hemet Mayor Pro-Tem Michael Perciful, Hemet City Manager Alex Meyerhoff, San Jacinto City Councilman Russ Utz, HSJVC CEO Andy Anderson, HSJVC Chairperson Michael Carle, HSJVC Vice Chair Dee Cozart and HSJVC Board Member (aka The Hemet Car Guy) Richard Perry. Hemet City Clerk Sarah McComas and Kathleen Aguilar, Meyerhoff’s executive assistant, were also there to lend support.
“I’ve worked for about nine months on this project,” said Yolanda Saenz, who is in charge of business development for Hemet/San Jacinto Valley Chamber of Commerce. “We’re excited to see them open for business and serve the people in our valley.”
Saenz is a little more than passionate about her work at the HSJVC, and has set a lofty goal for 2017.
“I will bring 100 new members into the Chamber this year,” she said. “I’m a driven person who wants to stay connected to this community. I don’t just want to bring new businesses to this valley, I want to see and help them grow.”
“We’re excited to be in Hemet today, we’re happy to get this store built,” said Wahid Karas, owner of this location and several more of the chain’s spicy fried chicken stores. “Not only have we employed 50 people in this valley at this store, we’ve also employed 15 valley residents in our Beaumont store.”
San Jacinto City Councilman Russ Utz attended to show San Jacinto’s support in Hemet’s newest business addition.
“I’m excited to see another new business in the valley; San Jacinto celebrated the grand opening of Snowberry last night,” said Utz. “We are really moving forward instead of backwards. We all need to support each other as one team in growing the Valley.”
Utz feels that when corporate decision-makers see cities working together, it makes the whole region seem more attractive.
“Today has been a good day. We’re starting to see more economic development in Hemet; we need to continue that momentum,” added Hemet Mayor Pro-Tem Michael Perciful.