Earning the title of America's favorite fast food restaurant is not something that happens overnight. Founder S. Truett Cathy and his family have been selling their chicken sandwiches and waffle fries to hungry customers across much of the country for seven decades, and each year the company adds dozens and dozens of new locations to the map. If there isn't one already, chances are that there will be a Chick-fil-A near you soon, so here are some things that you might not know about the chain.
1. CHICK-FIL-A INVENTED THE CHICKEN SANDWICH.
In 1946, Samuel Truett Cathy and his brother Ben opened a small restaurant called the Dwarf Grill in Hapeville, Georgia, roughly 80 miles from where they were born in Eatonton. According to the company [PDF], Cathy was approached by the owners of the Goode Brothers Poultry company of Atlanta with a problem and a potential offer. That set of brothers, Jim and Hall Goode, had been asked to provide boneless, skinless chicken breasts for airline meals, but at the end of their process, the chicken did not meet airline requirements and could not be used. Cathy agreed to accept the shipment of chicken and began developing a way to make it work for his restaurant’s menu.
After trying various cooking methods, ingredients, and seasonings, he arrived at one (which included two pickle slices) that his customers liked and added it to the menu. The company says that the secret recipe has not changed over the past 50 years, and that it is locked away in a vault at Chick-fil-A headquarters.
2. THE COMPANY IS THE LARGEST BUYER OF U.S. PEANUT OIL.
The chicken in Chick-fil-A sandwiches is fried in 100 percent refined peanut oil, which the company says is a part of the secret. The supply of peanuts comes from 1600 farms in states including Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. The oil reportedly does not add flavor to the chicken, and Chick-fil-A says that the refining process used by its suppliers removes the proteins that trigger reactions in those who suffer from peanut allergies, though they still suggest that customers with allergies consult their doctors first.
3. THE SANDWICH PRE-DATES THE NAME OF THE RESTAURANT.
After inventing the hit sandwich, Cathy needed to call it something. “He began to reflect on the product, made from what was widely considered to be the best part of the chicken—a boneless breast,” reads an official origin statement from the company [PDF]. Comparing his sandwich to a beef fillet (the “best cut of beef”), Cathy decided it could be called a chicken fillet, which became chick fillet, which became Chick-fil-A. The “A” in the name was capitalized to indicate that the food the restaurant served was of the best quality.
4. IT WAS A FAVORITE OF MALL RATS.
Chick-fil-A now has over 2000 locations in 43 states across the country, but customers used to have to visit shopping malls to get their chicken sandwich and waffle fries fix. The first in-mall restaurant opened in the suburbs of Atlanta in 1967 (not long after the birth of the mall food court). The shift to establishing more standalone locations came in 1994, and Chick-fil-A’s memorable billboard campaigns soon followed.
5. THE COW MASCOTS HAVE NAMES.
Because the company was in the business of selling sandwiches and not burgers, Chick-fil-A adopted spokes-cows as ambassadors of the “Eat Mor Chikin” movement. From 1995 until present day, real cows (and some fake ones) have starred in the restaurant's billboards, television commercials, print ads, and Facebook posts. For Cow Appreciation Day 2015, Chick-fil-A introduced the world to Cowboy Phil, the farmer and caretaker at the animal rental site where the four cows (named Freedom, Freckles, Kat, and Molly) live with other trained industry animals.
6. ALL LOCATIONS ARE CLOSED ON SUNDAYS.
Because of Cathy’s religious beliefs, all restaurant locations are closed for the Sabbath and holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. “My decision to close on Sunday came the first week it was in business,” Cathy said in a short documentary. “I was thoroughly exhausted and I had to make a decision. I needed that day, I want to preserve that day. Sunday is the Lord’s Day … we haven’t been open on Sunday in 50 years and we don’t intend to change that policy.”
However, individual Chick-fil-A stores will temporarily break protocol, as one Orlando-based restaurant did on June 12 to feed those who donated blood to help the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting that weekend.
7. EVERY TIME A NEW LOCATION OPENS, 100 PEOPLE EAT FREE FOR A YEAR.
The ever-expanding chain has a tradition that hardcore fans eagerly anticipate. The First 100 program celebrates the opening of each new Chick-fil-A location by giving the first 100 people in line free meals (one per week) for an entire year. Customers often camp out to be a part of that select few, and winners have successfully flipped their passes on eBay for cold hard cash. According to the Tampa Bay Times, there is even one superfan who has attended over 110 camp outs and has traveled up to 2900 miles for a single opening.
8. THERE IS A SECRET MENU.
Want a chicken sandwich with a little kick, or something flatter and more Mexican inspired? According to some sources, Chick-fil-A’s secret menu includes a buffalo chicken sandwich and a chicken quesadilla for those in the know. There is also a way to get a free soft serve instead of a toy when snacking from the kid’s menu, and some have asked for blueberry cheesecake slices blended into vanilla milkshakes.
9. FANS CAN GO ON OFFICE TOURS IN ATLANTA.
Chicken sandwich lovers in Atlanta have the opportunity to tour the Chick-fil-A headquarters in Georgia to learn more about the history and culture of the company. Called the Backstage Home Office Tour, the experience costs $10 per person for “The Original” and $20 per person for “The Deluxe,” which includes a look at Truett Cathy’s office and a shuttle ride to the innovation center and development kitchen.
10. IT SELLS PRETTY NICHE MERCHANDISE.
In addition to branded T-shirts and drinking glasses, Chick-fil-A fans can also show their love for the chain by purchasing umbrellas, cow-themed clocks, and cowbells from their online merch store. Past items that are currently not available online include Chick-fil-A visors, antenna toppers, golf towels, mouse pads, memo boards, backpacks, sunglasses, and rulers.
11. IT WAS THE FIRST QUICK SERVICE CHAIN TO GO ANTIBIOTIC FREE.
Chick-fil-A announced in 2014 that it would be making the major shift to using only antibiotic-free chicken at its restaurants by the year 2019. According to CNN, the antibiotics are used to stimulate growth and make the chickens less likely to become diseased, but the FDA and others have expressed concerns that the use of antibiotics for unnecessary purposes would lead to dangerous diseases becoming resistant.