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Chick-fil-A celebrates new Grand Central location with 'indoor campout' at Bryant Park

Manhattan's third Chick-fil-A opened Thursday across the street from Grand Central Terminal in midtown, and while the restaurant won't be the chain’s largest in town (that distinction will fall to a five-story location opening this year at 144 Fulton St.), it may very well end up being the busiest.

“I’ve been told there are about 700,000 people commuting through Grand Central Terminal,” says franchise owner Ellie Kim, an NYU grad returning to the tristate area after an 11-year stint in Washington, D.C. “I hope to see all of them.”

Kim, 53, personally hosted the franchise’s first 100 customers at a 12-hour, anticipatory “indoor campout” at the Bank of America Winter Village in Bryant Park on Wednesday night. It was a midtown homecoming for the first-generation Korean-American who moved to New Jersey with her parents as a teen and once clerked at a law firm on Madison Avenue. She loves the "energy [the area] radiates," and she won’t stand for us putting the tourist-clogged neighborhood down.

“When I moved to this country at 16, I was a little bit of a tourist in the beginning, too,” she says.

On Wednesday night, the sheer density of Kim's beloved central Manhattan compelled Chick-fil-A to adapt a long-standing tradition that baffles the non-zealous: the Atlanta-based chain usually builds hype for its new outposts with an overnight, outdoor camping event in the restaurant’s parking lot; this time, tents weren't permitted, and the company supplied the company’s most ardent disciples from ZIP codes in the tristate area with chairs and blankets — as well as coffee tumblers, T-shirts, stuffed cows and oversized Jenga and Connect Four sets.

They didn't go hungry, either (Chick-fil-A fed them sandwiches, chips, fruit and cookies), but they did have to work for their keep, packing 10,000 meals for the nonprofit Feeding Children Everywhere.

For those who stuck it out until 6:30 a.m. Thursday, the fanfare of clanking banging pots and pans greeted them at the new two-level, 100-seat restaurant at 50 E. 42nd St. The prize for their patience: A first taste of the nuggets off the griddle and the waffle fries out of the fryer, plus 52 free No. 1 meals, which come with the signature fried chicken sandwich, a medium iced tea or soda and a medium side dish.

Why did they choose spend 12 hours waiting for payoff and what did they plan on doing with it? We asked all the tough questions.

Meet the city's Chick-fil-A super fans:

Richard Coley, 66, Bushwick

His ZIP code: 11221 (Coley is actually from
Photo Credit: Alison Fox

His ZIP code: 11221 (Coley is actually from St. Petersburg, Florida, but he's been living in Bushwick while volunteering at a local church.)
What he usually orders at Chick-fil-A and how often: The No. 1 meal or a bowl of chicken soup every day. Sometimes more than once a day.
What he's getting Thursday morning: A biscuit and gravy.
What he brought with him for the night: A suitcase packed with a sleeping bag and a pillow. "I'm not moving in," he promises.
The number of grand openings he's attended: This is his 148th. He's been to campouts in 32 different states, and he's gone home empty-handed (sans the free sandwich deal) 25 times. But Chick-fil-A curtailed his record-setting pace when the company decided to restrict campout attendance to customers living within particular ZIP codes. "The numbers would be higher if they had not clipped my wings," he said.
What brings him back every time: "Way back when it was the free food," he says. "But once I was hanging out waiting for the free food, I had my eyes and my ears open . . . the more I heard the more I liked." Coley calls Chick-fil-A -- whose CEO's professed personal stance against gay marriage has inflamed New Yorkers in the past -- "a company that I can believe in, and I can get behind and support."

Eddie Harmon, 37, Flatbush

His ZIP code: 11226 His profession: Student and
Photo Credit: Alison Fox

His ZIP code: 11226
His profession: Student and computer engineer.
What he usually orders at Chick-fil-A and how often: The No. 1 meal once every other week. When he worked near Penn Station, he would eat a fried chicken sandwich several times a week. In high school, he and his friends were so addicted to Chick-fil-A's lemonade, they called it "liquid crack."
What he's getting Thursday morning: "I'm going to have a year full of number ones so I would have sausage and egg on a biscuit with hash browns," he says.
What he brought with him for the night: A laptop to do homework, music on his iPhone and a magazine. "I also have eye covers so if I want to go to sleep," he adds.

Virginia Noyes, 19, Brooklyn Heights

Her ZIP code: 11201, but she's from Atlanta,
Photo Credit: Alison Fox

Her ZIP code: 11201, but she's from Atlanta, originally.
Her profession: Student at The King's College. She, luckily, doesn't have class on Thursday.
How often she eats at Chick-fil-A: Once a month. Back in Georgia, it was once a week.
What she brought with her for the night: Homework. "I have a paper due Friday," she says. "This is a good way to pull an all-nighter."
What she's getting Thursday morning: The chicken biscuit. "Just stick with the original" is her strategy, she says.

Alex Thompson, 26, Washington Heights

His ZIP code: 10033 His profession: Advertising. Is
Photo Credit: Alison Fox

His ZIP code: 10033
His profession: Advertising. Is he planning on going to work Thursday, after a 12-hour campout? He told his co-workers about his plans and they are "pretty lax," he says, so it all depends on how he feels.
How often he visits Chick-fil-A: At least once a month, so he can claim the free grub granted by his "Cow Calendar."
What he brought with him for the night: Video games and snacks.
What he's getting Thursday morning: Chick-n-Minis, or chicken nuggets served in mini yeast rolls coated with honey butter.

Cameron Asay, 29, Inwood

His ZIP code: 10040 His profession: Actor and
Photo Credit: Alison Fox

His ZIP code: 10040
His profession: Actor and comedian.
The number of grand openings he's attended: This is his 12th.
What brings him back again and again: "I just like getting free stuff. I like not paying for things," he says. This time, he's also showing his buddy Thompson the ropes.
How he plans on spending the 12 hours until opening: "We'll play video games all night long. If I need to pout because I'm not winning enough, I'll prob take a nap."
What he's getting Thursday morning: A chicken on a biscuit with honey.

Ebony Hollingsworth, 31, Coop City

Her ZIP code: 10475 Her profession: Customer service.
Photo Credit: Alison Fox

Her ZIP code: 10475
Her profession: Customer service. And no, she's not playing hooky on Thursday. "I'm leaving here, running home to shower and change and going to work," she says.
How often she eats at Chick-fil-A: A couple times a month, but she will visit more often when they have a seasonal milkshake she likes.
What she's getting Thursday morning: The chicken biscuit and some fruit.
How she plans on spending her night: Playing with her phone and hanging out with her friend. "We're going to be with each other for 12 hours -- we might as well get to know each other."
What she will be doing with all those free chicken sandwiches: "I'm going to share with my family because I don't need 52 meals," she says. "They're also huge Chick-fil-A fans."

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