FORT WAYNE – Chick-fil-A fans by the hundreds turned out Wednesday to show their support for the fast-food chicken chain and its embattled president.
Sheryl Haarer of Huntertown was among nearly 200 people in line at the Glenbrook Square food court location Wednesday afternoon, long after the lunch rush was over. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, had declared it Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, leading to long lines at the chain that does not open on Sundays.
We just love chicken, Haarer said, laughing. We want to support Chick-fil-A; we appreciate their values.
Their values have been under fire since Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press last month that the Atlanta-based company was guilty as charged for backing the biblical definition of a family.
Gay rights groups and others answered with calls for boycotts because the privately held, family-owned company donates to organizations opposing gay rights.
(Cathy) should be free to say what he wants to say and run his business, Haarer said.
Marvin Gustafson of Churubusco said the massive local turnout was part of a national movement.
We’re here for more than a sandwich, Gustafson said. We’re here because the national media is getting on the president of this company for having biblical values. And we’re hoping this is just the beginning.
For Mark Cabrera, owner of the Glenbrook Square location, the equation was much simpler: As of 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, his store had already done as much business as it does all day on a busy Saturday. He had prepared for a big crowd, but would it be enough?
The freezer was full, the fridge was full, the staff was full, Cabrera said. We shall see.
Does the national controversy over the chain worry him?
My role as a restaurant owner is to serve great food and give great service to everyone, he said.
I’m excited so many people are coming out for some great food.
As he spoke, a woman walked by telling him, Keep standing for family values.
The chain’s response was similar: Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was not created by Chick-fil-A, said Steve Robinson, executive vice president of marketing, in a written statement. We appreciate all of our customers and are glad to serve them at any time. Our goal is simple: To provide great food, genuine hospitality and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.
The scene was much the same at the Jefferson Pointe location, with the added twist of a drive-thru line that wrapped around the building twice and then backed up to Apple Glen Boulevard. At 2:30 p.m., about 75 people were in line outside waiting to get in, but customers said the line at lunch time had been twice as long.
Kellie Hoch of Fort Wayne waited an hour and a half for chicken sandwiches and waffle fries but said it was worth it.
They’re having fun in there. They’re taking names and people are saying Michael Phelps,’ Snow White’ and Harry Potter,’ she said. Everyone’s very friendly and patient, even outside in the heat.
Her only fear, she said, was that they might be too late.
I thought they might be out of food, Hoch said. I thought we might just be getting sweet teas.
Unlike at the Glenbook Square location, Chick-fil-A officials at Jefferson Pointe declined to comment and told reporters they had to stay on the edge of the property. There, in the shady median, Ashley Craft of Markle enjoyed her lunch and the opportunity to make a statement.
It seems that our voice isn’t heard through regular means, Craft said.
We can’t vote on stuff daily, so we just complain. This was a way to make a stand.
By 7 p.m., the Jefferson Pointe location was telling customers it was out of food and employees were handing out cards for a free chicken sandwich at another time.
Lisa Green of The Journal Gazette and The Associated Press contributed to this story.