Jesus' favorite chicken sandwich
Those who read this blog know that I think it was wrong for certain Democratic politicians to threaten to block the building of Chick-fil-A on the basis of homophobic comments by its owner. And those politicians have since thought better of their comments. Free speech is free speech. Meanwhile, it's "Chick-fil-A appreciation day" around the country and conservatives are patronizing the restaurants as a sign of solidarity. Again, it's their right to do that and it's my right to never set foot in one of them. I hope it works out for them.
But regardless of everyone's free speech and "vote with your pocketbook" rights, it remains the case that Chick-fil-A is a very unusual company:
Chick-fil-A's corporate mission, as stated on a plaque at company headquarters (and by Cathy), is to "glorify God." It is the only national fast-food chain that closes on Sunday so operators can go to church and spend time with their families; franchisees who don't go along with the rule risk having their contracts terminated. Company meetings and retreats include prayers, and the company encourages franchisees to market their restaurants through church groups. Howe Rice, a franchisee in Glen Allen, Va., hosts a Bible study group in one of his two Chick-fil-A restaurants every Tuesday. He offers a free breakfast to all who attend. "You don't have to be a Christian to work at Chick-fil-A, but we ask you to base your business on biblical principles because they work," says Cathy.
Chick-fil-A is run by Cathy and his sons Dan T., chief operating officer, and Donald (a.k.a. Bubba), a senior vice president. They screen prospective operators for their loyalty, wholesome values and willingness to buy into Chick-fil-A's in-your-face Christian credo, espoused often by Cathy, an evangelical Southern Baptist who says "the Lord has never spoken to me, but I feel Chick-fil-A has been His gift."
Fifty employees and one franchisee grew up in one of 13 Christian foster homes in the U.S. and Brazil run by a nonprofit organization Chick-fil-A funds, the WinShape Foundation. Sixteen others were in Sunday-school classes Cathy teaches at First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ga. Cathy likes to give a leg up to people who have ambition but little else: The company asks operators to pay just $5,000 as an initial franchise fee. KFC, for example, demands $25,000 and a net worth of $1 million.
Chick-fil-A pays for the land, the construction and the equipment. It then rents everything to the franchisee for 15% of the restaurant's sales plus 50% of the pretax profit remaining. Operators, who are discouraged from running more than a few restaurants, take home $100,000 a year on average from a single outlet. A solo Bojangles' franchisee can expect to earn $330,000 (Ebitda) on sales of $1.7 million.
Loyalty to the company isn't the only thing that matters to Cathy, who wants married workers, believing they are more industrious and productive. One in three company operators have attended Christian-based relationship-building retreats through WinShape at Berry College in Mount Berry, Ga. The programs include classes on conflict resolution and communication. Family members of prospective operators--children, even--are frequently interviewed so Cathy and his family can learn more about job candidates and their relationships at home. "If a man can't manage his own life, he can't manage a business," says Cathy, who says he would probably fire an employee or terminate an operator who "has been sinful or done something harmful to their family members."
The parent company asks people who apply for an operator license to disclose marital status, number of dependents and involvement in "community, civic, social, church and/or professional organizations."
But Danielle Alderson, 30, a Baltimore operator, says some fellow franchisees find that Chick-fil-A butts into its workers' personal lives a bit much. She says she can't hire a good manager who, say, moonlights at a strip club because it would irk the company. "We are watched very closely by Chick-fil-A," she says. "It's very weird."
The article points out that federal law doesn't prohibit employers from digging into your personal business or firing someone who has "been sinful or done something harmful to their family members." (Hey Grover. How's that "leave us alone coalition" working out?)
But the company has been sued numerous times for religious and gender discrimination
. In order to keep that from happening more often they put their employees and franchise owners through the ringer, sometimes dozens of interviews, to make sure they are a good fit for the
"It is very difficult to get in, but once you're in, you're in for life," says Donald Elam, a Chick-fil-A franchisee in Superstition Springs, Ariz.: "I tell all my people, 'I'm not working for Chick-fil-A; I'm working for the Lord.'"
It's interesting that the Lord chooses to pay them a third of what they would get if they owned any other franchise. He does work in mysterious ways.