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Chick-fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City

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https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-gastronomy/chick-fil-as-creepy-infiltration-of-new-york-city/amp

 

During a recent lunch hour, I was alone on the rooftop of the largest Chick-fil-A in the world. The restaurant, on Fulton Street, is the company’s fourth in Manhattan, and it opened last month to the kind of slick, corporate-friendly fanfare that can only greet a new chain location. The first hundred customers had participated in a scavenger hunt around the financial district. At an awards ceremony, the management honored them with a year’s supply of free chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. There were no such prizes on offer when I visited, but from the fifth-floor terrace—on the top floor of the restaurant, which is twelve thousand square feet—I could see that the line to get inside stretched almost to the end of the block. An employee took orders on a touch screen and corralled people through the doors. The air smelled fried.

 

New York has taken to Chick-fil-A. One of the Manhattan locations estimates that it sells a sandwich every six seconds, and the company has announced plans to open as many as a dozen more storefronts in the city. And yet the brand’s arrival here feels like an infiltration, in no small part because of its pervasive Christian traditionalism. Its headquarters, in Atlanta, are adorned with Bible verses and a statue of Jesus washing a disciple’s feet. Its stores close on Sundays. Its C.E.O., Dan Cathy, has been accused of bigotry for using the company's charitable wing to fund anti-gay causes, including groups that oppose same-sex marriage. “We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation,” he once said, “when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ ” The company has since reaffirmed its intention to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect,” but it has quietly continued to donate to anti-L.G.B.T. groups. When the first stand-alone New York location opened, in 2015, a throng of protesters appeared. When a location opened in a Queens mall, in 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a boycott. No such controversy greeted the opening of this newest outpost. Chick-fil-A’s success here is a marketing coup. Its expansion raises questions about what we expect from our fast food, and to what extent a corporation can join a community.

I noticed that word—community—scattered everywhere in the Fulton Street restaurant. A shelf of children’s books bears a plaque testifying to “our love for this local community.” The tables are made of reclaimed wood, which creates, according to a Chick-fil-A press release, “an inviting space to build community.” A blackboard with the header “Our Community” displays a chalk drawing of the city skyline. Outside, you can glimpse an earlier iteration of that skyline on the building’s façade, which, with two tall, imperious rectangles jutting out, “gives a subtle impression of the Twin Towers.”

This emphasis on community, especially in the misguided nod to 9/11, suggests an ulterior motive. The restaurant’s corporate purpose still begins with the words “to glorify God,” and that proselytism thrums below the surface of the Fulton Street restaurant, which has the ersatz homespun ambiance of a megachurch. David Farmer, Chick-fil-A’s vice-president of restaurant experience, told BuzzFeed that he strives for a “pit crew efficiency, but where you feel like you just got hugged in the process.” That contradiction, industrial but claustral, is at the heart of the new restaurant—and of Chick-fil-A’s entire brand. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Cows.

It’s impossible to overstate the role of the Cows—in official communiqués, they always take a capital “C”—that are displayed in framed portraits throughout the Fulton Street location. If the restaurant is a megachurch, the Cows are its ultimate evangelists. Since their introduction in the mid-nineties—when they began advising Atlanta motorists to “eat mor chikin”—they’ve remained one of the most popular, and most morbid, advertising campaigns in fast-food history, crucial to Chick-fil-A’s corporate culture. S. Truett Cathy, the chain’s founder and Dan Cathy’s late father, saw them as a tool to spread the gospel of chicken. In his Christian business book “Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People,” from 2002, he recalls crashing a child’s party at a Chick-fil-A in Hampton, Georgia. Brandishing a plush Cow toy before the birthday girl, he asked her, “What do the Cows say?” 

She looked at me, puzzled. (Remember, she was barely three.)

“What do the Cows say?” I repeated.

“Moo,” she replied.

Everyone laughed at her pretty good answer, and I gave her a Cow and a hug and whispered the real answer to her. Then I turned to her mother and asked, “What do the Cows say?”

“Eat more chicken!” her mother cried . . . then, one by one, each person quoted the Cows and laughed.

Cathy died a billionaire, in 2014, but the “eat mor chikin” mantra has survived. Though the Cows have never bothered to improve their spelling, franchises still hold an annual Cow Appreciation Day, offering free food to anyone dressed as a Cow. Employees dance around in Cow suits. The company’s advertising manager doubles as its “Cow czar.” The Cows have their own calendar. (This year’s theme is “Steers of Yesteryear.”) They’ve been inducted into the Madison Avenue Walk of Fame, and their Facebook following is approaching seven figures. Stan Richards, who heads the ad agency that created the Cows, the Richards Group, likened them to “a guerrilla insurgency” in his book, “The Peaceable Kingdom”: “One consumer wrote to tell us the campaign was so effective that every time he sees a field of cows he thinks of chicken. We co-opted an entire species.”

It’s worth asking why Americans fell in love with an ad in which one farm animal begs us to kill another in its place. Most restaurants take pains to distance themselves from the brutalities of the slaughterhouse; Chick-fil-A invites us to go along with the Cows’ Schadenfreude. In the portraits at the Fulton Street restaurant, the Cows visit various New York landmarks. They’re in Central Park, where “eat mor chikin” has been mowed into the lawn. They’re glimpsing the Manhattan Bridge from Dumbo, where they’ve modified a stop sign: “stop eatin burgrz.” They’re on the subway, where the advertisements . . . you get the picture. The joke is that the Cows are out of place in New York—a winking acknowledgment that Chick-fil-A, too, does not quite belong here.

Its arrival in the city augurs worse than a load of manure on the F train. According to a report by the Center for an Urban Future, the number of chain restaurants in New York has doubled since 2008, crowding out diners and greasy spoons for whom the rent is too dear. Chick-fil-A, meanwhile, is set to become the third-largest fast-food chain in the nation, behind only McDonald’s and Starbucks. No matter how well such restaurants integrate into the “community,” they still venerate a deadening uniformity. Homogeneous food is comfort food, and chains know that their primary appeal is palliative. With ad after ad, and storefront after storefront, they have the resources to show that they’ve always been here for us, and recent trends indicate that we prefer them over anything new or untested.

Defenders of Chick-fil-A point out that the company donates thousands of pounds of food to New York Common Pantry, and that its expansion creates jobs. The more fatalistic will add that hypocrisy is baked, or fried, into every consumer experience—that unbridled corporate power makes it impossible to bring your wallet in line with your morals. Still, there’s something especially distasteful about Chick-fil-A, which has sought to portray itself as better than other fast food: cleaner, gentler, and more ethical, with its poultry slightly healthier than the mystery meat of burgers. Its politics, its décor, and its commercial-evangelical messaging are inflected with this suburban piety. A representative of the Richards Group once toldAdweek, “People root for the low-status character, and the Cows are low status. They’re the underdog.” That may have been true in 1995, when Chick-fil-A was a lowly mall brand struggling to find its footing against the burger juggernauts. Today, the Cows’ “guerrilla insurgency” is more of a carpet bombing. New Yorkers are under no obligation to repeat what they say. Enough, we can tell them. NO MOR.

 

 
 

 

 
 
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Was that in The Onion? Hilarious! The writer seems to be implying that the faith of the founder has something to do with the product served in the restaurants. That cracks me up! I want to get that issue of the New Yorker and look for their articles trashing other faiths. I bet they are just as hilarious!

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1 minute ago, Grumps said:

Was that in The Onion? Hilarious! The writer seems to be implying that the faith of the founder has something to do with the product served in the restaurants. That cracks me up! I want to get that issue of the New Yorker and look for their articles trashing other faiths. I bet they are just as hilarious!

I didn't think the author was "implying" anything.  He made the connection between corporate values and the "faith of the founder" quite plain.  Are you suggesting there's a disconnect?

I guess I don't understand your issue.

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1 minute ago, homersapien said:

I didn't think the author was "implying" anything.  He made the connection between corporate values and the "faith of the founder" quite plain.  Are you suggesting there's a disconnect?

I guess I don't understand your issue.

I guess I don't understand the point of the article. Why exactly does the writer think that Chick-fil-A does not belong in New York? Does the writer think that all other New Yorkers too stupid to know what they like? Is there something wrong with the restaurant trying to fit into the community? Seriously, what is not to like about Chick-fil-A? Are people just jealous that a restaurant can be SO successful and be nice at the same time? Please explain what beef (get it) the writer has with Chick-fil-A and also why YOU think the article is great and why you think Chick-fil-A is not a good company.

Also, just for kicks, can you post an actual quote from Dan Cathy or Truett Cathy that says something negative about ANYONE?

 

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19 minutes ago, Grumps said:

Was that in The Onion? Hilarious! The writer seems to be implying that the faith of the founder has something to do with the product served in the restaurants. That cracks me up! I want to get that issue of the New Yorker and look for their articles trashing other faiths. I bet they are just as hilarious!

Strange article in the era of Starbucks or Ben and Jerrys and other liberal oriented food purveyors who take great pride in their moral superiority and are not the least bit reluctant to boast about it. 

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On 4/15/2018 at 10:10 PM, Grumps said:

I guess I don't understand the point of the article. Why exactly does the writer think that Chick-fil-A does not belong in New York? Does the writer think that all other New Yorkers too stupid to know what they like? Is there something wrong with the restaurant trying to fit into the community? Seriously, what is not to like about Chick-fil-A? Are people just jealous that a restaurant can be SO successful and be nice at the same time? Please explain what beef (get it) the writer has with Chick-fil-A and also why YOU think the article is great and why you think Chick-fil-A is not a good company.

Also, just for kicks, can you post an actual quote from Dan Cathy or Truett Cathy that says something negative about ANYONE?

 

I think you are waaaay over-reacting. 

The author is drawing on cultural cliches' - and in some respects - is actually challenging them. 

Keep in mind that this is - by definition - written for New Yorkers -  a place not known for such a marketing model. That's exactly what makes it so entertaining as an article. 

And it was a fascinating insight to a brilliantly successful marketing strategy, which he also highlighted very effectively.

And I never said Chick Filet was a "bad company".  Obviously, from a business standpoint, they are a very good company.  I think this article highlighted their success - even in New York!

Granted, I - and many others - don't agree with the values of the founders regarding homosexual marriage (for example), but it's a free country.  Likewise, people who disagree with their values have every right to boycott their product.  

I really don't get your defensive reaction to it.  It smacks of Christian tribal victimhood.

       

Edited by homersapien
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33 minutes ago, AU64 said:

Strange article in the era of Starbucks or Ben and Jerrys and other liberal oriented food purveyors who take great pride in their moral superiority and are not the least bit reluctant to boast about it. 

wtf?   :blink:  

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24 minutes ago, homersapien said:

I think you are waaaay over-reacting. 

The author is drawing on cultural cliches' - and in some respects - is actually challenging them. 

Keep in mind that this is - by definition - written for New Yorkers a place not known for such a a marketing model. That's exactly what makes it so entertaining as an article. 

And it was a fascinating insight to a brilliantly successful marketing strategy, which he also highlighted very effectively.

And I never said Chick Filet was a "bad company".  Obviously, from a business standpoint, they are a very good company.  I think this article highlighted their success - even in New York!

Granted, I - and many others - don't agree with the values of the founders regarding homosexual marriage (for example), but it's a free country.  Likewise, people who disagree with their values have every right to boycott their product.  

I really don't get your defensive reaction to it.  It smacks of Christian tribal victimhood.

       

You NAILED it! I'm a Christian tribal victim! HAHAHAHAHAHA! You are as funny as the article writer. So what is the "creepy" part of Chick-fil-A's infiltration? Is it creepy that they are so nice to their customers? I can see how New Yorkers could be offended by that!

Did you post a negative quote by one of the Cathys yet?

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25 minutes ago, homersapien said:

wtf?   :blink:  

You seem defensive. That's pretty funny based on your views of my reaction to comments about conservative oriented food purveyors. This is a REALLY funny thread so far!

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10 hours ago, Grumps said:

You NAILED it! I'm a Christian tribal victim! HAHAHAHAHAHA! You are as funny as the article writer. So what is the "creepy" part of Chick-fil-A's infiltration? Is it creepy that they are so nice to their customers? I can see how New Yorkers could be offended by that!

Did you post a negative quote by one of the Cathys yet?

One of my grand daughters just got a job with Chick and was really excited.  After going to the "walk in" interview for the first step,  there was a second interview with a manager.   She was impressed about how professional they were compared to Outback.    Last week she did the training which she was happy to find, was paid time where they talked about the history of the company, why they don't open on Sunday and their role in the community. They also stressed how important it was to establish a welcoming atmosphere for customers and to express appreciation for their patronage.  She is pumped up about working there. Yep really strange for sure. 

Edited by AU64
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Chik-Fil-A is an extremely successful company and the controversy over their stance on gay marriage has only made them stronger. Good for them. While I wasn't necessarily in agreement with their outspoken stance on gay marriage, I applaud their continued booming success and I salute them for staying true and on point with their stated values. This article almost reads like sour grapes - using the terms "creepy" and "infiltrated," "misguided" and "ulterior motives" - I pretty much chuckled at every other sentence. Fat chance of making CFA go away anytime soon. It's good food (for fast food), prepared better and faster than any other fast food chain in America, and it's all done with a smile and a good attitude. Call it disingenuous if you want but I've never had any experience at any CFA over half a dozen states that wasn't genuine. My own worst experience had more to do with the layout of their parking lot and drive through and how busy it was then with anyone working at the establishment.

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Aside from their stance against gay marriage (that they publicly backed off of) and Christian image they show, this is an extremely well oiled machine in fast food. I’m not crazy about the food. My kids are so I’m there often, or used to be. As far as customer service, they are simply unmatched. 

I can disagree with their political position and still enjoy their products and services. I also hear they are a fine employer for that industry anyway. 

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I tend to just not get the vapors about the political views of owners of companies, musicians, actors and such.  If I limited who I spend my dollars on such things to those whose views align with mine, I'd own about 5 CDs, have seen maybe 3 films and would have homemade electronics all around the house.  The views would have to be so far in the extreme for it to get on my radar.  WGAS if the owner has views about homosexuality that differ from yours?  Or if that musician loved Obama and hates Trump?  Do you like and find good value in the food, the music, the products they make or not?  Decision made.

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13 hours ago, Grumps said:

You seem defensive. That's pretty funny based on your views of my reaction to comments about conservative oriented food purveyors. This is a REALLY funny thread so far!

 

Defensive of what?   

I'd like to see a specific example of what he's talking about.  Let's discuss it.

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My father owned a grocery store for years. He taught us never get in a discussion involving politics or religion....

I realize things have changed.......I have to agree with titan.........I caught myself not wanting to eat certain places because of their political stance.....

I had to stop and realize how foolish it was.........Also made me realize why dad had that discussion with me when I was young.

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9 hours ago, kevon67 said:

My father owned a grocery store for years. He taught us never get in a discussion involving politics or religion....

I realize things have changed.......I have to agree with titan.........I caught myself not wanting to eat certain places because of their political stance.....

I had to stop and realize how foolish it was.........Also made me realize why dad had that discussion with me when I was young.

Very good advice.  I've seen more than one small business with political signs in their window. :beatup:

My father-in-law would never have political or religious stickers on his car for the same reason.

But I don't totally agree with your "boycott position".  Yeah, it might be foolish to forgo an essential service or product because of the personal opinion of the proprietor, but I have no problem with people choosing to do business elsewhere based on that.  It behooves business owners to take your father's advice if they want to avoid that.

This is exactly why it can be self-harming for religions to take aggressive positions in political issues.  In fact, this is a perfect example.  I have no problem with doing business with a Christian business owner - I might in fact even prefer to.  But I am not going to support bigots and xenophobes.

Edited by homersapien

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Interesting article. Wish everyone in business catering to the public could attend the Chic-fil-A customer service training.

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I basically quit watching any of the big 3 news.......Each seem obsessed with choose a side and may your opositon be damned........

Maybe I am a little simple and naïve........I support 2nd amendment yet my home defense is a Vokey SW 56°........never owned a gun....

I prefer marriage to a female........yet if one of my sons chose a different path, my love for my sons wouldnt be discarded

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Surely the Chick-Fil-A conversation was already had in here?

It's very simple. It has nothing to do with Christianity. The Cathy family has, at least in the past, aggressively funded groups who fight against basic civil liberties for American citizens. So- again, at least in the past- when you spent money at their restaurants, you were in essence helping to fund the fight to deny your fellow citizen these liberties. 

It is not Chick-Fil-A's religion or views that are an issue. It is their actions, and how they have recirculated the money spent at their restaurants.

As for the article, yeah, I don't care for it. It's vague and meandering and just kinda comes across as butt-hurt. I can't tell if the author is more preoccupied with Chick-Fil-A's anti-gayness, the Cow campaign (it *is* creepy as hell), or the corporatization of New York. There are some valid points made, but it feels like the author is using CFA as a scapegoat to avoid talking directly to the consumer about their choices. 

Edited by McLoofus

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16 minutes ago, homersapien said:

Very good advice.  I've seen more than one small business with political signs in their window. :beatup:

My father-in-law would never have political or religious stickers on his car for the same reason.

But I don't totally agree with your "boycott position".  Yeah, it might be foolish to forgo an essential service or product because of the personal opinion of the proprietor, but I have no problem with people choosing to do business elsewhere based on that.  It behooves business owners to take your father's advice if they want to avoid that.

This is exactly why it's it can be self harming for religions to take aggressive positions in political issues.  This is a perfect example.  I have no problem with doing business with a Christian business owner - I might in fact even prefer to.  But I am not going to support bigots and xenophobes.

No bigotry I agree...........My explanation could have been clearer..........my example in my mind was burger king prior to election.......next you know I am crossing off U2......most of my favorite actors and movies.

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16 hours ago, Grumps said:

Also, just for kicks, can you post an actual quote from Dan Cathy or Truett Cathy that says something negative about ANYONE?

Maybe when he said that gay people shouldn't be allowed to marry people they love?

You may disagree and you may cite your faith as basis for that, but surely you understand why other people find that offensive and, at the very least, "negative"?

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58 minutes ago, McLoofus said:

Surely the Chick-Fil-A conversation was already had in here?

It's very simple. It has nothing to do with Christianity. The Cathy family has, at least in the past, aggressively funded groups who fight against basic civil liberties for American citizens. So- again, at least in the past- when you spent money at their restaurants, you were in essence helping to fund the fight to deny your fellow citizen these liberties. 

It is not Chick-Fil-A's religion or views that are an issue. It is their actions, and how they have recirculated the money spent at their restaurants.

As for the article, yeah, I don't care for it. It's vague and meandering and just kinda comes across as butt-hurt. I can't tell if the author is more preoccupied with Chick-Fil-A's anti-gayness, the Cow campaign (it *is* creepy as hell), or the corporatization of New York. There are some valid points made, but it feels like the author is using CFA as a scapegoat to avoid talking directly to the consumer about their choices. 

There's actually a large contingent of Washington fans who are refusing to travel to the opener in Atlanta because of this since the game is sponsored by Chick-Fil-A.

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12 minutes ago, Brad_ATX said:

There's actually a large contingent of Washington fans who are refusing to travel to the opener in Atlanta because of this since the game is sponsored by Chick-Fil-A.

Do you have a link for that?  I live up here and haven't heard anything about that.  I'm busy trying to get some of my friends who are UW season ticket holders who aren't going to the game to let me buy their tix(!)  As for Chik-fil-a stores up here in WA, they are a relatively new thing.  The first store opened up in Bellevue in 2015 and has been swamped ever since.  Other store locations have followed due to the demand.  Here's a story on the latest:  WA loves some of that 'Eat more chikin'

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