CORDELE - MeriBeth McNeil is spreading the excitement about the January opening of Cordele's Chick-fil-A, and this past Tuesday, she met with the Cordele Kiwanis Club.
The owner/operator of the local restaurant explained some of the history of the famous eatery and then talked specifically about what will happen in January when the Cordele Chick-fil-A opens for business.
As a new college graduate, McNeill began working with Chick-fil-A as a brand developer, and she says she was captured by the company's history. Truett Cathy developed his love for the hospitality industry from his mother who ran a boarding house, she said. His father was a farmer who lost everything during the depression, so the younger Cathy knew hardship. Nothing was given to him.
Cathy who also inherited his work ethic from his mother had as his first job selling Coca Colas by the case door to door making a nickel a case. His first restaurant, the Dwarf Grill opened in 1946, and he sold hamburgers, then he learned that he could speed the process of preparing chicken by cooking it under pressure. His recipe for the original chicken filet sandwich is kept under lock and key at the corporate headquarters in Atlanta, McNeill said.
That first restaurant costs Cathy about $4,000 to build. Now, stores like the one in Cordele require about $4 million for construction and startup costs, according to McNeill.
The very first Chick-fil-A opened in Greenbrier Mall in Atlanta in 1967. It was 1986 when the first free-standing restaurant opened on North Druid Hills in Atlanta. Now there are 1700 eating establishments in 40 states, McNeill added.
She revealed the real reason Cathy began closing his restaurant on Sundays and now requires that all Chick-fil-A's be closed that day. He always worked hard himself and in fact, continues to go to his office everyday. By the end of the week, "he was tired," McNeill said, "and he closed the restaurant for a day of rest for himself and his staff."
Turning to the Cordele eatery, McNeill said, "Grand openings for new restaurants are a lot of fun." Before the Cordele eatery opens on Jan. 9, she said, "we will blitz the community with food and coupons."
There will be a dedication ceremony on Monday of the opening week, then Tuesday will be premier night with many fans invited to eat at the restaurant. By Wednesday morning, people will be camping out in the parking lot, she continued. Everyone who stays on site for the full 24 hours until the official opening Thursday morning will have their names placed in a drawing. The first 100 names pulled will receive one free meal a week for a full year.
Still operated by the Cathy family, Chick-fil-A has a strict customer service policy, according to McNeill. Employees must use the phrase, "my pleasure" often. "We have a recipe for service just like the recipe for our food. Called 'second-mile' service, ours is based on Biblical principles."
Chick-fil-A's whole purpose can be boiled down to a few words, McNeill explained. Basically, it is to glorify God and create a pleasant experience for every person who comes in contact with the business.
Sharing her love for the company, McNeill talked about its philanthropic arm called WinShape Foundation which provides homes for foster children, marriage therapy and retreats, college scholarships, camping opportunities and leadership training. She also mentioned the company's most famous promotion with cows.
Chick-fil-A treasures its employees, McNeill added, so the hiring process is very complex. Some 700 to 800 applications from five counties have been received locally, she said. She anticipates that many high school students will be hired. "We love to provide students' first jobs, then make college scholarships available to them."
She is excited about the opening, and says she and the store will be very involved in the community.