‘Road to Authenticity’: El Pollo Loco Goes Back to Its Los Angeles Roots


El Pollo Loco

Can a restaurant brand with hundreds of locations across the US that is traded on the NASDAQ be authentically “local”? El Pollo Loco thinks so. The grilled chicken chain from Los Angeles just launched a “Road to Authenticity” campaign that aims to communicate how El Pollo Loco’s vibrant personality is directly tied to the its roots. It’s a bold regionalization of a national chain with around 450 restaurants in Arizona, Utah, Texas, Nevada and, of course, California.

“Since first opening in LA in 1980, the people, places and practices of this city have inspired the heart and soul of our brand,” said Ed Valle, chief marketing officer of El Pollo Loco, in a press release. The brand brought in agency Vitro to capture the inspirations and heritage of the El Pollo Loco brand.

The “Road to Authenticity” campaign plays on traditional media and includes a video that could not be more LA, including a lot of graffiti, tattooed hipsters, millennials, Spanglish and, oddly enough, street food, something El Pollo Loco most certainly is not.

It makes sense that El Pollo Loco would move to capitalize on its genuine LA roots story. The Los Angeles food scene could not be hotter right now. As reports from San Francisco and New York tell the story of an old world battle of foodies mired in an expensive war of one-upmanship, Los Angeles has emerged as the silver city of inspiration and experimentation. It’s a charge led by second-generation celebrity chefs like Eddie Huang. It’s the city of food trucks and food truck battles, youth appetites and sexy illegality. Despite long since moving to a publicly traded giant, El Pollo Loco retains a bit of that LA punk; it was less than a decade ago that El Pollo Loco publicly called out KFC’s corporate offices for posting fake chicken reviews.

El Pollo Loco began in Sinaloa, Mexico, but opened its first US location in 1980. A Los Angeles Times report noted that by 1982, even though its menu was just grilled chicken, some salsa and tortillas, El Pollo Loco’s 1,500 square foot location was doing $125,000 a month in sales. In 1983, Denny’s came calling, bought the 19 locations, and by 1990 El Pollo Loco had 200 locations in the California and the southwest. By 2007, El Pollo Loco was the theme of one Donald Trump’s The Apprentice challenges, a placement El Pollo Loco paid for.

The brand’s new “Road to Authenticity” message, with heavy Hispanic heritage themes, would probably rather customers forget that bit of brand history. Its new video is a modernist envisioning of the brand’s roots, communicating what it wants to be more than what it is.

That brand’s pivot to the personal is on prominent display in the new video. No, most El Pollo Loco’s bear no resemblance to the graffiti-covered one featured in the spot. That location was a special one-off mural done at the Echo Park location by Jorge Gutiérrez, the director of the recent Mexican-heritage animation-fest The Book of Life.