“We don’t need bigots coming to New York City.”
That’s the reaction from openly gay Councilman Daniel Dromm, upon reading the story in USA Today that Chick-fil-A plans to expand into New York. “They are not welcome here unless they can embrace all of New York’s diverse community, including the LGBT community,” he told the Huffington Post.
Chick-fil-A’s CEO, Dan Cathy, caused massive controversy in 2012 when he publicly stated his opposition to same-sex marriage. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit,” he affirmed to Baptist Press. “We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.” In total, Chick-fil-A donated almost $2 million to anti-gay groups in 2009, including the Marriage & Family Legacy Fund, the National Christian Foundation, the Eagle Forum and the Family Research Council.
Cathy’s remarks and the company’s spending habits led to boycotts of the restaurant by the LGBT community and its supporters. In response? Mike Huckabee called for “National Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” while the National Organization for Marriage encouraged “Eat at Chick-fil-A Day.” Chick-fil-A broke sales records in Los Angeles on August 1, 2012, the day planned for Huckabee’s event.
Outrage over Cathy’s public stance, then-Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino stated he would block any Chick-fil-A franchises from opening in his city. He told the Boston Herald that he didn’t want a business in his city “that discriminates against a population.” Menino later sent a letter to Dan Cathy, in which he stated “In recent days you said Chick-fil-A opposes same-sex marriage and said the generation that supports it has an ‘arrogant attitude.’” He continued, “Now — incredibly — your company says you are backing out of the same-sex marriage debate. I urge you to back out of your plans to locate in Boston.”
Mayor Menino’s letter proved something of a standard for North-East attitudes to Chick-fil-A, which has so far failed to gain significant footing in the area. Its tactics are to focus on healthier menu items and rapid expansions. It will open 108 restaurants in cities and other areas, many in New York, a staunchly liberal state with a large number of millennials, who tend to support LGBT rights.
Chick-fil-A, which recently surpassed KFC to become the largest Chicken restaurant in America and whose sales topped $5 billion last year, is aware of the importance of cracking the New York market. “If we can’t do it in New York, we have no business going anywhere else,” stated Chick-fil-A’s VP of design and innovation, Woody Faulk.
For the restaurant, a focus on fresh, healthy foods is key — as is letting gay people feel safe to eat there again. “All of us become more wise as time goes by,” Cathy told USA Today. “We sincerely care about all people.” It could be easier said than done, however. When questioned by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his stance on gay marriage, Cathy said, “I think the time of truths and principles are captured and codified in God’s word, and I’m just personally committed to that. I know others feel very different from that, and I respect their opinion and I hope that they would be respectful of mine.”
For New Yorkers, Chick-fil-A restaurants will start to pop up over the course of the year, at which point they can decide if the new Chick-fil-A meets their culinary needs. For LGBT people, the Chicken is stil a little undercooked. Though Cathy has repeatedly stated he will keep the business out of the same-sex marriage debate, the restaurant’s Southern Baptist influences are still very much prevalent. Whether or not the mistrust caused by millions of dollars worth of donations to anti-gay marriage groups can be solved with grilled Chicken sandwiches and public apologies remains to be seen.