Chick-fil-A will open its first full-service restaurant in New York City on Saturday, which is noteworthy news whether you're a fan of their fried chicken sandwiches, an adversary of their anti-same sex marriage CEO, or fall squeamishly somewhere in between. Today, the Herald Square franchise let press in for a peek at their pristine kitchen, a taste of some upcoming menu items, and a dose of some Southern hospitality—which, for this born-and-bred New Yorker, was totally startling. But more on that in a bit.
The new outpost, located on the corner of 37th Street and 6th Avenue, boasts three floors—a cellar kitchen is located in the basement, the main floor hosts an ordering queue and a second kitchen, and there's a dining area on the top floor. For those who are familiar with Chick-fil-A's menu, basics like the Original Chicken Sandwich ($7.95 for a meal, $4.15 for an entree), the Spicy Chicken Sandwich ($8.29 for a meal, $4.49 for an entree), and the Grilled Chicken Club ($10.99 for a meal, $7.19 for an entree) are all on tap.
They're also rolling out some special items just for NYC, like an Egg White Grill, made with a whole wheat English muffin, chicken, cheddar cheese and an egg white omelet. The corporation is touting their "healthier" grilled chicken options, salads, and Greek yogurt parfaits, since they anticipate health-conscious New Yorkers may be less inclined to load up on the fried stuff.
Some Chick-fil-A staples are gone. Though the company's known for its Southern hospitality and table-side service, some of that's getting swapped out for speed's sake. Diners will order on a "flexible queue," placing "upstream orders" with tablet-bearing employees and picking them up almost instantly at the counter—much like a drive-thru, as a Chick-fil-A spokesperson noted today. For tourists who yearn for genial banter, Chick-fil-A says they'll still be training some employees to be as convivial as the ones you'll find in, say, Atlanta.
That conviviality, by the way, is no joke. Whether or not you're uncomfortable with Chick-fil-A's roots in religion—note that even the New York iteration will be closed on Sundays, as mandated by the Southern Baptist Cathy family that founded and runs the corporation—the focus on genuine friendliness and hospitality was certainly evident at today's preview. Employees were kind and chatty, one worker taught me how to properly mix sweet tea with unsweetened tea, and everyone offered to throw out my trash. Which, considering a cashier at a Modell's in SoHo literally threw my credit card at me on Monday, was certainly welcome, if somewhat disorienting.
Still, there's been some controversy about the arrival of an Chick-fil-A in NYC (an outpost at NYU has been open for years, but is officially for students and faculty only). The company has had a history of donating to anti-same sex marriage groups over the years, and CEO Dan Cathy famously alienated quite a few potential customers in 2012, after he told a Baptist newspaper that he was indeed against same-sex marriage. "We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles," he said, igniting a worthy firestorm from protesters at the NYU location.
Naturally, Chick-fil-A hopes to put all that behind them. "This is a restaurant that's for everyone," David Farmer, the Vice President of Product Strategy and Development, told me when I brought up the controversy. "We want to be a good member of this community. We want to be open to everyone." So Chick-fil-A's CEO might not want members of the LGBT community to get married, but he does want you to buy his chicken. Well then.
Anyway, Chick-fil-A opens at 6 a.m. on Saturday, and the first 300 customers will have the chance to enter a lottery for weekly free meals there for a year, provided they start camping out at 6 p.m. on Friday. Bring a raincoat.