According to The New York Times, Chick-fil-A is set to open its first full-service store in New York City on the heels of controversial comments made by its CEO just a few years ago.
The first NYC restaurant will be located at 37th Street and Avenue of Americas in Manhattan. The company expects the location to have more traffic than any of their other 1,900 stores, and they’ve already designated a store to open on 46th Street and Avenue of Americas next year as a “relief valve” for customer overflow.
Chick-fil-A was the subject of widespread scrutiny in 2012 after CEO Dan T. Cathy expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage.
According to the LA Times, Cathy confirmed what many critics believed of him for years in an interview with Baptist Press. Upon being asked if the company only supports marriage between a man and a woman, Cathy responded, “well, guilty as charged.”
The comments set off a backlash against Chick-fil-A among proponents of gay marriage. Gay couples staged “kiss-ins” outside of company restaurants to express their displeasure with Cathy’s remarks.
Aaron Allen, a restaurant consultant, doesn’t see Chick-fil-A’s strong Christian values as an inhibitor to sales. In fact, he thinks it may even help the company.
“Unlike any other restaurant organization we’ve seen, there’s more religion baked into Chick-fil-A as a brand — and it works for them,” Allen said.
As an added bonus, Chick-fil-A’s dismissal of beef and commitment to chicken makes it appealing to pseudo-dieters. More than two out of every three adults are considered to be overweight or obese, and fast food is widely considered to be a major cause of the obesity epidemic in America.
Allen thinks that Chick-fil-A’s focus on promoting the “healthiness” of their food is a major advantage for the company over other popular chains.
“The product is very simple, a breaded chicken breast, but they somehow manage to convey with the cleanliness of their stores and their service that the quality is somehow higher, not health food but healthier than most fast food,” Allen said.
Since putting the same-sex marriage controversy behind them and ensuring their beliefs don’t infringe on employment laws, Chick-fil-A has thrived. The biggest question looming over their move to NYC is how locals will respond to their “Southern friendly” type of service.
New Yorkers typically aren’t fond of interacting with strangers in a pleasant manner, and the company wonders how they will treat the longstanding custom of “paying it forward,” in which a customer pays for the meal of the person behind them.
David B. Farmer, the company’s vice president for menu strategy, thinks that locals will come around to the practice eventually, though it will almost certainly be on their own terms.
“We’ve all been wondering if something like that will happen here, and if it does, what it will look like,” Farmer said. “I’m sure if it does, it will have a New York spin to it.”
If you’re dreading this upbeat customer service model, don’t fret; the chicken is good enough to distract you from even the friendliest of employees.