The restaurant, sporting a just-completed $6 million renovation, shows off New Orleans’ ambiance _ wrought iron fleur-de-lis, exposed brick and a mural of the French Quarter. It’s hard to believe the location is a suburban shopping mall.

Even the courtyard, with ceiling fans, a fountain and vines screening off the parking lots and stores around it, Copeland’s Restaurant clings to its Big Easy beginnings.

“When I look at Copeland’s and I think of what it’s all about, it’s about New Orleans food,” said Al Copeland Jr., who’s shepherding the company his flamboyant father founded 25 years ago just as casual dining was springing up.

Copeland’s traces its heritage from humble beginnings _ the single Popeyes chicken restaurant Al Copeland Sr. founded in the 1970s and parlayed into a franchised empire before a debt-ridden acquisition of Church’s fried chicken cost him the company in the 1990s.

But the elder Copeland held on to the Copeland’s chain, which had started in 1983 and was operated separately from Popeyes. His son sees franchising as the strategy to grow beyond the seven Southern states and Maryland in which the company now operates.

“I’m going to go back to really what made us successful with Popeyes,” Copeland said.

The task may be daunting. In the midst of a national economic recession, it’s hard times for many restaurants. More.