Despite the signage, Chick-fil-A still boasted the busiest counter in the mall’s food court Wednesday at lunchtime. Many diners were aware of the restaurant’s historic status, which added to their surprise at the closure.
Out-of-towner Jovens Degage, who is from Miami, missed the signs and didn’t realize the location was closing. He said travel for work brings him through Atlanta on an almost weekly basis, and he always stops at this Chick-fil-A location.
“I usually order the same thing, so knowing that it’s closing, this is kind of sad news for me,” Degage said with a look of bewilderment.
Courtland, another customer who preferred not to give his last name, was aware the location was closing but did not realize the shutdown would come so soon. He is from Union City, but said he eats at this Chick-fil-A once or twice a week.
“This is supposed to be the first one, right?” he asked. “I’m trying to understand why they’re closing. They’re never slow. I don’t understand.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reached out to Chick-fil-A for more information about the decision but did not receive a response.
Chick-fil-A grew out of Truett Cathy’s Dwarf House restaurant in Hapeville, where he began pressure-frying chicken breasts and realized a fried chicken sandwich could be prepared in about the same amount of time as a fast-food burger. During the 1960s, Cathy licensed the chicken sandwich to more than 50 other restaurants, including Waffle House.
The licensing deals ended when Cathy opened the Greenbriar Mall Chick-fil-A on Nov. 24, 1967. According to Chick-fil-A, customers visiting the first location “could order just a few classics: the Original Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich (which was just 59 cents), salads with boneless chicken breast, coleslaw, lemon pie and lemonade.” Regular french fries rounded out the menu; the chain’s trademark waffle fries were not introduced until the 1980s.
Over the next two decades, Chick-fil-A expanded almost exclusively through shopping mall food courts. The chain opened its first freestanding brick-and-mortar location on North Druid Hills Road in Atlanta in 1986.
Chick-fil-A now has nearly 3,000 locations in 48 states and overseas, and it has become one of the most profitable restaurant chains, generating average sales at freestanding locations of more than $8.5 million in 2022, according to QSR Magazine.
In 2007, Chick-fil-A celebrated 40 years at the Greenbriar location. A plaque detailing the restaurant’s historic significance greets customers as they order.
As the lunch rush continued to build Wednesday, diners moved briskly through the line like any other day. There was little evidence anything was amiss until a group of four paused at the plaque next to the cash registers. As a group, they stopped for a selfie with the plaque in the background, posing with exaggerated expressions of sadness plastered across their faces.