Chick-fil-A readies for Manhattan debut

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Chick-fil-A readies for Manhattan debut

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NEW YORK —Sweet tea, buttered biscuits and a little “my pleasure” with a Southern twang has come to the Big Apple and Kerri Loudis couldn’t be happier.

With her office just two blocks away from the chain’s new store in the fashionable Garden District, Loudis, 37, knows how she’ll start her day before going to work.

“I can get a biscuit every morning after I get off the train and start my day right,” the Duluth transplant, who has lived in Manhattan for 12 years, said during a private gathering Thursday at the store for University of Georgia grads.

“I’m so excited,” she said.

Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A is opening its first store in Manhattan on Saturday and the chain began getting the word out this week with a blitz of media interviews, a waving cow mascot at the store at the corner of 37th Street and 6th Avenue, and at preview events like the one held for UGA alumni.

David Farmer, vice president of menu strategy for the company, said New York is a test step to see if the company is ready go international. If it finds success here — more stores are on the way, including one around Rockefeller Center — then Paris and London may one day follow.

“This is a big stage,” Farmer said. “This is a phenomenal food market.”

Moving into New York is the chain’s biggest push to date to expand its traditional suburban core into big, lucrative cities such as Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C. The Manhattan store is just a short walk from the Empire State Building and is Chick-fil-A’s biggest at 5,000-square-feet and three stories.

While it will carry the same menu and keep with tradition of closing on Sundays, the store’s staff has been trained to interact with New Yorkers a little differently. They’ve been trained to “read” customers to know the difference between famously brusque locals who may not be interested in a lot of chit-chat and tourists or business visitors more open to Southern charm.

“There’s a reason they say, ‘In a New York minute,’” Farmer said.

And minutes will count. Without a drive-thru — a typical Chick-fil-A earns about 75 percent of its revenue from motorists — the Manhattan store will need to move foot traffic quickly to make the location work. Test models expect customers to be in and out between four and six minutes. To do that, staffers will use tablets to take orders before customers get to counters to pick up their orders.

The store also will employ more than twice the number of employees — 200 versus the typical 75.

As is tradition, the first 100 people in the door for the grand opening will win free Chick-fil-A for a year. A line is expected to form Friday evening and Chick-fil-A plans to offer branded chairs and sandwiches and screen “Night at the Museum” on one of the buildings across the street.

Back at the UGA event, Robbie York, another Georgia transplant from Griffin, said fans of the chain like himself have been longing for Chick-fil-A to open in Manhattan for years.

York, who co-owns American Whiskey, a Madison Square Garden-area bar and restauarnt popular with transplants from Southeast region football states, said Chick-fil-A will be the go-to pre-game regiment for SEC fans who gather at establishments across the city to root for their teams.

“When the Chick-fil-A opens on Saturday, it will be as big as a nightclub opening,” he said, bursting with enthusiasm. “This is unbelievable. So many of us have been craving this and now it’s here.”

Coming soon on myajc.com: A deeper look at Chick-fil-A’s strategy for New York City — and beyond.

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