Put on your favorite cow-gear and enjoy a free meal on Chick-fil-A today as CEO Dan Cathy proposes they will possibly give away as many as 500,000 chicken sandwiches which includes both a side and a drink. The Cow Appreciation Day website claims that in the spirit of the day even partial costumes will be udderly acceptable and they encourage entire herds to join in the fun.
Fun cow banter aside, we had a chance to sit with CEO Cathy yesterday afternoon to chat about our favorite fast food restaurant. We laughed a bit and also touched on some important issues. Cathy came off both entertaining and genuine. I think you will enjoy this Q&A.
We understand this is a family-run restaurant, but how long have you personally been in the business?
The restaurant opened in 1946 after my dad sold his car that he had and borrowed more money to open a restaurant. It was a small diner with eight stools at the counter with a cigarette machine on one end and a juke box on the other. Dad wanted us to have a good work ethic so we were put to work at a young age and one of the jobs I was given was to take a knife and go around the chairs and tables and pull the gum off. As short as I was I could see the bottom side of the table better than the top side.
Chick-fil-A has become famous for the 16-year-old “Eat Mor Chikin” cow advertising campaign, how will you be celebrating Cow Appreciation Day?
I will be picking up my dad and we will be driving around Atlanta restaurants that have these crazy, whimsical appreciation day celebrations going on. It will be a lot of fun for him to see people dressed up like cows.
There’s something about the plight of these poor defenseless cows that go around saying “Eat Mor Chikin”, and they don’t spell very well, that has captured people’s attention. It’s a lot of fun.
You conduct your business a bit differently than others. Being closed on Sundays and other ‘outside the box’ methods. How does this work for you?
It’s a lot more fun to work outside the box. The cow thing is a quirky kind of thing to do, but it works. Being closed on Sundays, or locating in shopping malls in the 70’s which was a very non-conventional way to expand a restaurant back then. Doing things different will continue to be part of our DNA.
What different things will you be doing in the future?
One thing we just started is backstage tours of our restaurants, even during the lunch crowd we invite people to take a look at the back of the house. Any time we are open we will be tour ready. It’s a marvelous thing. People will be able to see the ingredients that go into your food. They can see our cleanliness standards, and meet the people that prepare their food. They can see people hand-juicing all those lemons for the lemonade, and filleting the chicken.
How do you make the chicken, what’s the secret?
First, every piece is hand breaded. The seasoning combination also makes this unusual. It’s also the real care we take in our preparation.
Here’s the deal, I am not a finance person but I compete with a lot of organizations that are run by accountants. I am a restaurateur. The quality of the food, the experience is important to me personally. I treat this like I am having a guest over my house for dinner.
When you open a new restaurant you invite guests to camp out over night to earn a year of free dinner. Have you ever camped?
That is a fun promotion. My next camp out will mark my 119th, so I have a tent and a sleeping bag. I mark with a Sharpie all the locations I have camped at with the dates and cities I have been in. My tent is really good, but I am needing to replace the metal rods. They are beginning to wear.
Lastly, what makes a corporation stand out with respect to political issues such as a stand on homosexuality?
I think this is a very important dialog we are having in our nation as to who we are as people and the whole sexual orientation thing is an area of tremendous discussion right now. It is being discuss in Washington, it is being discussed in the State Houses, and even in our homes.
We were pulled into this discussion very harmlessly by providing Chick fil A sandwiches for a local church. This was done by one of our franchisees, nothing corporate we were doing. They provided sandwiches for a marriage seminar. So we were characterized simply by provided the sandwiches for this event that we must be part of an anti-gay hate group such as that.
At Chick-fil-A our place in society is one of hospitality. We want to welcome all people
We know a lot of people on the Gay and Lesbian side of this issue that have been hurt deeply, and on many occasions. It is very regrettable. I believe even those that believe in traditional family values have often have a harsh, a bitter and even an antagonistic spirit that is uncalled for.
I am thankful for the opportunity to debate this issue but in a civil way. At Chick-fil-A our place in society is one of hospitality. We want to welcome all people. This debate is for the politicians and the families to have. Our role is hospitality, and that is something you roll out to everybody.