“EAT MOR CHIKIN,” Chik-fil-A cows say.
The newest Chick-fil-A in New York City opened last month, marking the chain’s fourth location in the city and its largest restaurant anywhere in the world.
While many rejoiced over the 12,000-square-foot addition to the fried chicken empire, The New Yorker was less enthused. In an essay Friday, the magazine described the spread of the fried chicken restaurants as “an infiltration.”
The Atlanta-based chain is set to become the third-largest fast-food chain in America by 2020, behind McDonald’s and Starbucks.
Right-wing media outlets were quick to jump on the story as an attack on Christianity by a Brooklyn-based elitist. The Federalist called it “vitriol,” while Breitbart compared it to propaganda from the Ku Klux Klan.
The company has found success, $9-billion-worth in revenue last year, by marketing the simple chicken sandwich served with a smile. But it’s also been branded as a Christian company, a moniker the late founder S. Truett Cathy rejected, though his son’s staunch and gospel-based opposition to same-sex marriage sparked controversy in 2012.
Chick-fil-A was criticized at the time not just for CEO Dan Cathy’s views, but for donating nearly $2 million to anti-LGBTQ groups, including those that supported conversion therapy and some designated as hate groups. Though the company has since stopped giving proceeds to some organizations, it still donates quietly to anti-LGBTQ causes.
When the first New York Chick-fil-A location opened in Queens, it was greeted with protesters. The second restaurant was met with a call for a boycott by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
By 2017, the fast-food chain was more positively viewed than its competitors, according to a Morning Consult poll. Last month, the Fulton Street Chick-fil-A opening was welcomed with a scavenger hunt and celebrations.
Despite their qualms, it seems New Yorkers have taken to Chick-fil-A — one Manhattan location estimates that it sells a sandwich every six seconds — and the company does give back to the communities where it operates through food donations and millions of dollars in scholarships for employees.
While a dissection of Chick-fil-A’s signature cows may seem ridiculous to some readers, there is an underlying tension seeking to be addressed.
Beyond how Christian values might manifest in customer service — whether as a business strategy, a way to spread the gospel, or both — the larger question is how far companies and consumers can go in putting their money where their mouths are.
Each purpose-centered brand is selling its own gospel, asking customers to weigh morals and worldviews, as well as the quality of service and products, when voting with their wallets.