If, like most people traveling home from Guatemala , you fly out on a commercial airline, don’t be surprised by the distinct smell of fried chicken onboard your aircraft. One look at the overhead bins will quickly reveal that they are crammed tight with boxes of fried chicken. Meet Pollo Campero, which, along with coffee and bananas, may be one of Guatemala’s main exports.
Guatemalans have always had an affinity for the stuff. It’s actually quite good, though I’ve never taken it along as a carry-on. Many travelers take a box home for homesick relatives craving a taste of the land they left behind. Although Pollo Campero has opened up shop in recent years in several U.S. cities, expatriate Guatemalans still make a point of stopping at the store in La Aurora Airport to pick up a box. To illustrate the utter hold it has on the Guatemalan masses, the airport shop operated out of a street-side trailer during the airport’s recent renovation at a time when all other businesses were simply closed.
You may be asked by U.S. Customs if you’re carrying food and this question might specifically address your smuggling of Pollo Campero. Rest assured, Customs officials are happy to let the cooked chicken cross the American threshold after applying the requisite X-rays. Some Newark Airport Customs officers even claim to have the uncanny ability to distinguish chicken from a Guatemalan Pollo Campero versus a San Salvador outlet, though I’ve never taken them up on offers to verify their claims.
Pollo Campero is becoming more than just a Guatemalan phenomenon, however. An aggressive company expansion includes the opening of numerous new locations throughout North America, Europe, and even Asia in the coming years. In 2007, Campero opened outlets in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Shanghai, China, with ambitious goals to open 500 more restaurants in China by 2012. Campero already operates 220 restaurants in 10 countries, including 38 in the United States. It employs more than 7,000 people and is the largest fast-food chain in Latin America. With such aggressive expansion plans, Pollo Campero may be headed for a location near you, and I don’t mean seat 25F.