The controversial chain Chick-fil-A opens its first free-standing NYC franchise in Herald Square at 6 a.m. Saturday with a promotion promising a year of free weekly meals to 100 of the first 300 people in line and oodles of folksy Southern "come and get it" charm.
Should demonstrators flock to the opening squawking about the company's past contributions to anti-gay organizations and its CEO's statements lamenting the Supreme Court's validation of same-sex marriage, "We plan to treat them with honor, dignity and respect, just like any other customer," said one worker who had not been authorized to speak with the press. "We'll invite them in for something to eat!" offered another.
After numerous protests and social media firestorms, Chick-fil-A CEO and president Dan Cathy told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year he planned to shut up about his belief that same-sex marriage should be illegal, as he realized the health of his billion dollar business "has to take precedence over the personal expression and opinion on social issues." The company has also stopped funding most if not all the anti-gay groups it supported, according to published reports.
But many still see the decision to eat or not at the privately owned, family-run franchise, which is rooted in Atlanta and steeped in Southern Baptist culture, as a political act.
David Friedman, 38, author of "The Disabled Foodie" blog, would have preferred that Chick-fil-A roosted far, far away from NYC. "I'm not giving my money to that bigot," Friedman said of Cathy. The Jackson Heights restaurant critic, who has been married to his husband for three years, also objects to the chain as "furthering the Disneyfication of New York." While Friedman is glad that 180 people will have full or part-time jobs at the new franchise, he implored equal rights supporters to spend their money at "our local quality businesses."
But this Chick-fil-A is likely to roost for a long time, as it has a 20-year lease. And more are on the wing: Another one, at West 46th Street and Sixth Avenue will hatch next year and "I can envision 15 to 20 restaurants in the city, and more in the outer boroughs," said Ryan Holmes, the company's urban strategy consultant.
Even for some gay people, the lure of the chain's famous fried chicken eclipses all else. "I love their chicken sandwich!" exclaimed Tyson Murphy, 32, a publicist who described himself as a "Chick-fil-A gay."
"I can't help myself," continued Murphy, who lives in Washington Heights: "Everyone has their own opinion and my opinion is their chicken sandwich is delicious." Murphy plans to patronize the Garment District outlet -- one of more than 1,900 nationally -- as soon as the opening day hubbub calmed down. "I'm really excited," he said.
Many transplanted Southerners are ecstatic at the prospect of rekindling sense memories from childhood.
"I'm from Georgia. I grew up on Chick-fil-A. The food is great -- it reminds me of home -- and the customer service is awesome," said Upper West Sider and Journey Church pastor Anthony McCormick, 34. McCormick's first job at 17 was working at a Chick-fil-A in Dalton, Gerogia.
His father, also a pastor, allowed him to take the position because all Chick-fil-As are closed on Sunday, a policy that has been in force since S. Truett Cathy opened his first restaurant, The Dwarf Grill, in Hapeville, Georgia, in 1946.
Chick-fil-A officials projected that the Herald Square restaurant will be the busiest in the nation and McCormick augured that despite NYC's prevalent liberal sensibilities, it will do gangbuster sales. "If you have a great product, people are much more forgiving than if you don't," he observed.