Two Chick-fil-A’s set to open in region this fallWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
On Aug. 1, hundreds of Chick-fil-A customers formed lines around the food court at the Westfield Franklin Park Mall in support of the chicken chain. Two months later, two new locations are preparing to open in the Toledo area.
“Because of the receptivity of the Toledo community, [Chick-fil-A] felt like we needed to grow by 200 percent in a very short amount of time in order to service the demand for our product,” said Jonathan Winn, who will operate the 4260 Sylvania Ave. location, just outside the mall.
The other new location will be at 10315 Fremont Pike, Perrysburg. Owner/operator Mike Herrick, who used to run the Chick-fil-A in the mall food court, is transitioning to the Perrysburg location. Chick-fil-A business interns will run the mall location, formerly the only Chick-fil-A in town, until Nov. 1 when a new owner comes in.
Each location is more than 4,000 square feet and includes a play area and double drive-thru lanes. About 200 employees are being hired at the two new restaurants, which will be closed on Sundays as is chain policy.
Herrick’s franchise is slated for a Nov. 1 debut and Winn’s location is set to open Nov. 29.
Winn and his family moved to the area about two and a half months ago after operating a Canton Chick-fil-A for three years.
“Our plan for coming to Toledo is to be here the rest of our lives, to be able to retire here,” Winn said. “That’s why we moved up to be here, just to be part of the fabric of the community in a big way.”
Before signing on with Chick-fil-A, Winn was a college and young adult pastor.
“One of my students said, ‘Man, you are just like one of the owners of a Chick-fil-A restaurant that we know. You should think about doing this.’ And so I researched it, hung out with a couple owners … got to know the business a little bit and decided this was something I wanted to give my life to and give my career to long term.”
Herrick had been with the mall Chick-fil-A for 21 years. Although there will be some changes, such as going from 900 square feet to more than 4,000 and from about 40 employees to 90, Herrick is confident.
“The basic idea of service is still the same. You’re still going to take care of customers the same, but the whole service model changes,” he said.
Despite his history in the area, Herrick still had to apply for the owner/operator position along with about 260 other applicants. Although Chick-fil-A owns the property and equipment, the franchise owners, like Winn and Herrick, own the business license and employs the workers.
Herrick said he was excited about the new locations and that Chick-fil-A was also looking into opening an Airport Highway location in the future.
“I’ve been the only game in town. I haven’t had any friends. Now I’ve got friends,” Herrick said and laughed.
That wasn’t always the case — Woodville and North Towne Square malls had locations that closed in the ’90s. Westfield Franklin Park Mall’s location opened in 1984 and Herrick came onboard in 1991.
Herrick was at the helm of the mall location during Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day on Aug. 1. Controversy sparked after the chain’s president Dan Cathy offered his thoughts on same-sex marriage on “The Ken Coleman Show.”
“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about,” Cathy said.
Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and allied community along with mayors of major cities like Boston, Chicago and San Francisco lambasted Chick-fil-A in turn. To support the chain, former Arkansas governor and FoxNews personality Mike Huckabee rallied for an appreciation day. In response, customers formed lines with hours-long waits at Chick-fil-A’s nationwide.
Herrick declined to share specific figures from the day, but did say it was record setting and extremely busy.
“It was like surfboarding on a tsunami. You’re just holding on for dear life, hoping to get to the other side,” he said. The mall location stayed open until 10:30 p.m. to finish serving customers and Herrick had to travel to Columbus the next day to replenish supplies.
Winn emphasized that Chick-fil-A didn’t market the day, but that it was a grassroots effort.
“We’re thankful for whatever stage God gives us in order to serve our food and be an impact in the community. And that was just somewhat of a bigger stage,” he said.
Winn added, “Dan was speaking his personal views on the biblical definition of marriage and that was not representative of the 1,000-plus owners that we have as a chain or the company.”
The company has more than 1,600 locations across the country and has reached $4.1 billion in sales. Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy opened his first restaurant in 1946 and the first Chick-fil-A debuted in 1967.
Winn estimated that 80-90 new locations open every year. Both owners said they didn’t think boycotters had slowed down sales.
“It was the highest August we’ve ever had. We were up double digits in sales. September, we’re up more than normal so it has continued. Some of it is publicity,” Herrick said.
Herrick said of the boycott, “People don’t run to boycott Ben & Jerry’s or Starbucks because they support issues that maybe I object to. I love Starbucks and I’ll spend my money there.”
He added of same-sex marriage, “From my political views, it really clashes with my spiritual views because I’m a libertarian.”
“From a libertarian point of view, I don’t care. Just so long as your rights don’t infringe on my rights and just as long as you don’t cost me any money to enforce your rights or you don’t hurt or hit anybody.”
Gay and bisexual individuals work at the area Chick-fil-A, he added.
Winn said everyone should feel comfortable eating at Chick-fil-A.
“Chick-fil-A has had a policy now for the last 60 years since Truett opened his first restaurant in 1946, that we’re going to do our best to serve every customer irregardless of religious affiliation, age, gender, sexual orientation, and that’s really been our philosophy and our standard. So that’s going to continue to be what our policy is here in the greater Toledo area, to serve the diverse culture of Toledo residents,” Winn said.
Sherry Tripepi, executive director of same-sex marriage advocacy group Equality Toledo, said she wouldn’t be comfortable at a Chick-fil-A.
“I want to spend my money and support those organizations that stand for equality for all people, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and it doesn’t appear that Chick-fil-A does. So, no, I would not visit one of their franchises,” she said.
Winn and Herrick said they do not consider sexual orientation when hiring employees.
“We’re going to take a look at people-oriented applicants that have a driven passion to treat everybody with honor and dignity and respect, to go the extra mile in meeting the needs of the customer, to really seek leverage making emotional connections with customers,” Winn said.
“You’re gonna see 16-year-old men pulling out chairs for moms with their kids. You’re gonna see college-aged young ladies helping moms carry their babies out to the table for them and getting them all situated,” he added.
Both restaurants will have a “First 100” event the day/night before the openings. The first 100 customers, who will need to camp out overnight, will receive 52 coupons for free meals. Activities will be planned throughout the day and meals will be served.
“It’s just gonna be party time,” Herrick said, adding that he’s met people who have been to 32 “First 100s” and a couple who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at one.
“I mean that’s dedication. You can’t tell me it’s for the free Chick-fil-A for a year. It’s more than that. It’s almost like a cult following,” he said.
To learn more, visit www.face book.com/PerrysburgPlazaChickFilA and www.facebook.com/Chick FilAToledo.