Chick-fil-A fans camp out for Salem opening
SALEM – Jenn Wilson grinned widely as she got the first warm chicken biscuit from the Salem Chick-fil-A restaurant early Wednesday morning. The restaurant on West Main Street wouldn’t even be open to the public until the next day, June 7.
And there are more of the restaurant’s chicken sandwiches in Wilson’s future, 52, to be exact. Providing that she didn’t leave the parking lot between Chick-fil-A and Stellar One bank for 24 hours, she would have a year’s worth of meals.
The Blacksburg resident who is a nurse at LewisGale Medical Center drew No. 1 to make the First 100, as the restaurant chain calls them. Out of the estimated 250 hopefuls that showed up by the 6 a.m. deadline, Wilson and the other 99 who drew the lucky numbers would get free Chick-fil-A meals for a year if they stayed all 24 hours.
That lot was transformed into a sea of popup tents, peopled by the Chick-fil-A faithful, some who plan their lives around openings of the restaurants.
No. 2 of the First 100 was Anna Matson, who is expecting a baby next week. No. 3 was Wilson’s friend Stafford Craymer of Salem. They arrived at 5:52 a.m. on June 6, said Wilson, who was taking part for the first time.
Why? The free sandwiches, of course, and “I thought it would be fun to do with friends.”
Jake and Libby Knupp of St. Petersburg, Fla., have been in the First 100 fans 88 times before the Salem opening. “This is 89 in less than five years,” said Libby Knupp. Originally, they camped out for Chick-fil-A “for the coupons. If we don’t have a coupon, we don’t get it.”
After that, “It’s the people, the camaraderie,” she explained. The couple’s goal is to make 100 grand openings, Knupp added, “Maybe in 2012.”
Mother Janice Dortch of Ashboro, N.C., was camping out for her second opening. Her college student son, Daniel, 19, has been to 22 Chick-fil-A openings. He does it for free food, Daniel said. His mom explained the first time she camped out at an opening it was to get the free meal coupons “to motivate the CNAs at the nursing facility where I work.”
Owner-operator Shaine Miles and his wife, Vanessa, are hometown Salem and Glenvar people who grew up here and have been operating a successful Chick-fil-A in Kentucky for five years. They welcomed Salem City Council members, other Salem officials and Chick-fil-A owners from other areas at a VIP opening and ribbon cutting on June 5.
Among the guests that day were West Salem Elementary fifth graders Emma Bradley and Ashby Garst, both 11.
They were taking a day off with their mothers, Nancy Bradley and Salem City Council Member Lisa Garst, for the historic occasion of Salem’s first Chick-fil-A. City officials have been trying to get the chain in Salem for almost eight years.
Nancy Bradley quipped, “London gets its Diamond Jubilee today; we get Chick-fil-A.”
Among daughter Emma’s first words, her mom said, were “ChikLay,” when she was about 2 and the family would drive past one of the restaurants.
After sampling a sandwich, Salem Vice Mayor John Givens commended the restaurant chain started by Truett Cathy in Atlanta, Ga., in 1946. “It is Christian based and has very strong values.”
And Council Member Jane Johnson agreed, “That filters down to the way the company treats its employees.”
Shaine Miles said of the 81 employees at the restaurant now, “65 of them live in the Salem zip code.”
Miles played football for Salem High School and went on to coach after Virginia Tech. He uses coaching strategies in encouraging his employees, he said.
Before Chick-fil-A even was, Salem resident Jim Myer was one of the first people to sample the future chicken sandwich.
“My father, Al Myer, was in the Army in 1945 with Truett Cathy. In 1964 I went to the Dwarf House (the restaurant started by Cathy and his brother) in Atlanta to pick up food for the family. He said, ‘I put something in the bag that Jeanette (Truett’s wife) and I are working on.’
When I got home and opened the bag, I said to myself ‘Truett Cathy has lost his mind. Whoever heard of putting a piece of chicken in a hamburger bun?’ About six months later, he started serving what now is Chick-fil-A.”