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Tampa Bay KFCs swamped by Oprah fans seeking free chicken

If Oprah Winfrey was able to send people in droves to the bookstore, imagine what she can do for chicken.

Her Tuesday show generated a national frenzy when she invited viewers to download a free certificate for KFC's new grilled chicken from her Web site. Now, the company has postponed honoring the coupons after millions of customers redeemed them in the past three days.

Across the Tampa Bay area Friday, scores of people poured into local restaurants seeking a free lunch. Word about the deal spread like a virus through office buildings and e-mail. Co-workers piled into cars with printed copies from Winfrey's Web site, www.oprah.com.

Laurel Gustafson, manager of branches for St. Petersburg Public Library System said more than a few patrons came in to download and print the coupons for the $3.99 meal.

Many were disappointed.

At the KFC at 6300 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N in St. Petersburg, a line of people was turned away after being informed the location could no longer accept coupons. A sign on the door told customers they could receive a rain check that could be mailed in for another coupon.

Pam Newton came along with her friend, Shelly Tran, and her 3-year-old daughter, Grace. "I was laid off recently and was looking forward to a free lunch," Newton said. With no coupons being honored, they settled on the traditional fried chicken.

Tran said she was disappointed that such a major advertised deal was a bust. "They shouldn't have done it if they didn't have enough," she said.

Patrick Bynes waited in line for more than 20 minutes for free chicken outside the KFC at 1605 W Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa on Thursday.

"Not worth it," he said.

Yet, coupon in hand, he was back for more at lunchtime on Friday. But this time, only a dozen customers were waiting, almost all of them with a coupon.

Over at the KFC at 8401 N Florida Ave., assistant manager Fung Ng said customers were mad they couldn't get their free meals.

She said customers tried to redeem various coupons at once and that many coupons were not originals but copies. After three days of long lines, the store on Florida quieted down on Friday.

"We would like to apologize to our customers who have been inconvenienced by the overwhelming response to our free Kentucky Grilled Chicken offer," said Roger Eaton, president of KFC U.S. in a statement. "The lines of customers wanting to redeem their coupons have been out the door and around the block, so we're unable to redeem customer coupons at this time."

Austin Bogues can be reached at abogues@sptimes.com or (727)893-8872. Alessandra Da Pra can be reached at adapra@sptimes.com or (813)226-3321.

Tampa Bay KFCs swamped by Oprah fans seeking free chicken 05/08/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 14, 2009 9:01am]
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