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: