Listed first on the menu board at Chick-fil-A is the No. 1 meal. It consists of a chicken sandwich, medium waffle potato fries and a medium beverage. Whenever a new Chick-fil-A opens, 100 lucky fans receive a card loaded with 52 of these meals.
The value of this one-year supply of free food is about $300. But to win it, fans have to spend the night on the restaurant’s parking lot until doors unlock the next day at 6 a.m.
Of course the free food is what entices people to camp out with strangers, but the Chick-fil-A First 100, as this event is officially called, has become part of the cult and culture of Chick-fil-A. And the First 100 celebration that occurred April 26-27 to mark the grand opening of the Chick-fil-A at 3725 Cascade Road in southwest Atlanta was no different.
College students love free food and they showed up en masse. Maxwell Broom, a fourth-year student at Georgia Tech, arrived at 6 a.m. on Wednesday with more than two dozen other students from the university, this despite that Thursday marked the first day of final exams. They came with tents, sleeping bags, blow-up mattresses and pillows. They also came equipped with entertainment to pass the time: board games, TV, Xbox, video games and extension cords to provide electric juice. The majority of them were First 100 seasoned veterans. This was Broom’s fourth time.
“It’s fun to bring a bunch of people and hang out,” he said.
The giveaway attracts young and old alike. Charles Walker, 78, sat in a lawn chair and wrapped in a blanket as he kept his spot as No. 91 in line. It was 5 a.m. Thursday and he had just one more hour to go before claiming his prize.
Unlike Broom and his college buddies, Walker hadn’t planned on camping out. He happened to pass by the restaurant Wednesday afternoon and realized the promotion was going on. So he got a place in line, stayed put and called his daughter, Christel Walker.
“He had nothing with him,” she said. She and her 6-year-old daughter, Cali Smith, showed up with necessities – “I bundled my dad up” – and kept the elderly man company through the evening and into the morning. Walker walked away with that coveted free meals-for-a-year prize, not for him but for his Chick-fil-A-loving wife.
This was the first time the Walkers had participated in a Chick-fil-A campout, and they commended the company for keeping people comfortable with free food and use of its restrooms.
“If they are willing to camp out on our property, we want to make it a good time for them,” said Chick-fil-A spokesperson Cindy Chapman. The company treated its urban campers to breakfast, lunch, dinner and even a late-night snack of warm cookies and milk. A DJ provided entertainment. There was a lip sync competition. And, in keeping with Chick-fil-A’s community outreach efforts, there was a bit of do-gooding. Folks waiting for free food helped package meals for the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
The First 100 tradition dates back some 13 years and, at this point, Chick-fil-A has the process down. Nearly 30 people from the company were present to check eligibility requirements, provide food, run line checks and help things run smoothly. The same thing was happening in Austin, Baltimore and Tampa, as the company had four restaurants all opening on April 27.
But one thing that sets the new Atlanta location apart is its close proximity to Greenbriar Mall, where Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy opened his first Chick-fil-A restaurant 50 years ago. Whitney Schwartz, a Chick-fil-A grand opening event planner based outside of San Francisco, was especially excited for this assignment that brought her back to her native Atlanta.
Possibly the most enthusiastic person on the premises was Jean Floyd, proudly wearing a wristband that marked her as the first person in line. “I’m in line for my grandchildren. They love Chick-fil-A,” she said. Floyd arrived Wednesday morning at 4:45 a.m. But she’d been scheming over the giveaway ever since construction on the restaurant began a year ago.
“I kept my eye open,” she said about her wait for opening day.
While this was Floyd’s first Chick-fil-A campout, holding a place in line is nothing new for her. “I used to camp out for Jackson Five tickets and Staples after-Christmas sales,” she said.
As the 6 a.m. opening neared, the lucky 100 lined up one more time. They donned white Chick-fil-A T-shirts handed out to them. They high-fived the Chick-fil-A cow mascot. Then they entered the building to cheers from the staff. Franchise operator Rory Woodfaulk shook each person’s hand as he passed out the gift cards.
Not everyone was a winner. Dexter Clark stood watching behind a rope that separated winners from wannabees. He had arrived Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. but left, thinking he was too late. But he came back the next morning, just to see the hullabaloo – and to buy some food.
“I heard one is opening in two weeks in another location, so I might try that one,” he said.
Indeed, another Chick-fil-A will open at 2975 Cobb Parkway on May 11. Mark your calendar for May 10, then get in line.
Chick-fil-A First 100. The next giveaway for free Chick-fil-A meal cards is May 10-11 at 2975 Cobb Parkway, Atlanta in Akers Mill Square. www.chick-fil-a.com.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC