May 7, 2009 -- Angry patrons looking to get a free meal, compliments of talk show host Oprah Winfrey, waited in long lines outside a New York City KFC franchise Wednesday and staged a sit-in when told the restaurant had run out of grilled chicken.
A riot rumored online, however, did not take place, a KFC spokeswoman told The Associated Press.
"Some customers were upset because they couldn't get their chicken, but there was no riot," said spokeswoman Laurie Schalow.
A coupon available exclusively through the talk show queen Oprah Winfrey's Web site, oprah.com, for 24 hours Wednesday, had been sought out so frequently that "Oprah Winfrey KFC coupons" was the fifth most-searched item on Google Trends by Wednesday afternoon, hours after it had been posted.
Stores across the country reported they were inundated with customers looking to redeem coupons for "two pieces of grilled chicken, two individual sides and a biscuit." Some restaurants quickly sold out and told customers, who have until May 19 -- exluding Mother's Day, May 10 -- to use their coupons, to come back.
"A lot of restaurants experienced very, very heavy traffic with people trying to redeem the coupons," Schalow said, though KFC headquarters did not hear of any other problems Wednesday with customers other than the those at the New York City franchise. "All stores are very busy today, very long lines, that's what we're hearing."
Customers in Burbank, Calif. said the manager at a store there turned away coupon-holding customers.
"They were turning away droves of customers. I was in the store and there was plenty of chicken to fill the free orders as advertised," Tom DeBaacker wrote ABC News in an email.
KFC said there were long lines at many of the chain's shops yesterday, but there was only a problem with disgruntled customers in New York.
"No calls were placed to 911," said New York Police Department Detective Joseph Cavitolo.
He said beat officers may have entered the store. He could not confirm how many people were there but said no arrests were made.
Gothamist, a local blog, posted an e-mail and photos from a customer at the Manhattan branch.
"I went over to our nearest KFC a few minutes ago ... and chaos ensued," the e-mail read. "Despite the very visible grilled chicken behind the register, the manager told everyone with coupons to leave and that the promotion was over for the day. The people there are currently holding a sit-in and refusing to leave until they get their free chicken. ... There were 911 calls. Racial epithets were being spewed, people who actually wanted to pay for chicken were facing a potential beat-down, and the manager ran from the screaming horde. Oprah, what have ye wrought?"
KFC, formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken and a subsidiary of Yum Brands, launched the grilled chicken line two weeks ago and has offered free samples in some participating locations.
Rick Maynard, a KFC spokesman, told ABC News.com the reason the company sought out Winfrey to promote the product was "pretty self-explanatory. She's got a huge audience who trust her."
The details of the deal KFC and Winfrey worked out to offer the coupons, Maynard said, were confidential.
Oprah announced the promotion during her show Tuesday.
Harpo, Winfrey's production company, would not comment further on the deal.
Oprah has made no secret of struggling with her weight and dieting. KFC is promoting the new line as a healthy alternative to its traditional fried chicken. An Original Recipe fried chicken breast is 400 calories, versus 119 for the grilled breast, according to the KFC Webs ite
UPDATE: Thursday afternoon, KFC appologized for the long lines that "inconvenienced" customers and offered rain checks to those who were unable to get food when they wanted.
"We would like to apologize to our customers who have been inconvenienced by the overwhelming response to our free Kentucky Grilled Chicken offer. The lines of customers wanting to redeem their coupon have been out the door and around the block, so we're unable to redeem customer coupons at this time. Instead, we will be issuing rainchecks to customers which can be used at a later date," KFC President Roger Eaton said in a statement released by the company.
"We're asking our customers to kindly visit their local KFC to find out more about rainchecks. For their inconvenience, we'll also be including a free Pepsi to go with their free Kentucky Grilled Chicken meal. We know that when people taste their free Kentucky Grilled Chicken, they're going to love it. We thank our customers for their understanding and patience," the statement read.