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ATLANTA-Locally based AFC Enterprises Inc., proprietor of the Popeyes fried-chicken restaurant chain, plans to close between 30 and 70 locations worldwide this year after completing 20 net openings in 2008. The Cajun-themed eatery plans to open 90 to 110 locations while closing 140 to 160 of those with below-average system sales.

The decision to open fewer Popeyes this year will position the company for more rapid growth once economic conditions improve, according to AFC executives. They say the goal this year is to build guest traffic while increasing enforcement of operating standards.

Popeyes opened 140 locations in 2008, including 73 domestic and 67 global restaurants, while shutting 120 throughout the year. The chain counts a total of 1,922 restaurants throughout the US and in 25 foreign countries.

“We are confident that our strategic initiatives will steadily build Popeyes market share and profitability over time,” AFC CEO Cheryl Bachelder stated in a release. “During 2009 our focus will continue to be on the generation of strong steady cash flow and we plan to use that cash to repay debt and invest in key initiatives to deliver long-term growth and solid returns for our franchisees and shareholders.”

AFC on Wednesday reported a 22% decline in net income last year, to $19.4 million from $23.1 million in 2007, in line with previous guidance. Revenue for the year declined only slightly, to $166.8 million, with Bachelder citing a “good year” for Popeyes’ global restaurants.

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