Neither crowds, nor heat, nor dark of night could deter hundreds of eager would-be Chick-fil-A customers waiting in the parking lot for the opening the restaurant’s newest metro Atlanta location in the Northlake area. The Chick-fil-A on Lavista Road opened at 6 a.m. on May 26, but a crowd had started to gather the evening of May 24. On the afternoon of May 25 there were roughly 200 people, many with tents prepared to spend the night.
As it has at openings of stand-alone restaurants for the past eight years, the company awards coupons for free food to the first 100 adults in line when the store opens. If the crowd at opening time exceeds 100 people, a raffle determines who gets coupons. Chick-fil-A has been in business since 1967, but for its first 19 years, the restaurants were all inside shopping malls.
Covered with colorful tents, the parking lot the afternoon before the opening was the site of card games, football tosses and entertainment directed by Chick-fil-A staff that included music, contests and such games as a frozen T-shirt competition that awarded a gallon of lemonade to the first team to get an icy T-shirt on one of its members. Chick-fil-A estimates that it has given away more than $13 million in free food at its restaurant grand openings since the coupon offer began in 2003.
Not everyone is there for the possibility of free food. Georgia Tech student Michael Chaney, engaged in a card game with friends, most of whom were also students, said that it was a great opportunity to hang out with friends.
Secretary Candace Randall swapped days off with a co-worker so that she and her daughter and niece could be part of the event. “We love Chick-fil-A. We just wanted to participate,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful experience. Everybody has been friendly and helpful.”
Georgia Tech student Jonathan Lowder came with his fiancée Lindsey Gainey and their friend Judi Codding, all of whom said they were there as much for the adventure as the possibility of free food.
“We’ve done this before, but we weren’t really prepared. This time we’re prepared to stay all night,” Lowder said.
The threesome made a new friend, Mickey Khamphoumy, whom Lowder described as a veteran of parking lot sitting. Khamphoumy said he lives in Buford and has camped out at Chick-fil-A openings in Winder, Bethlehem and in North Carolina and South Carolina. For him, the free food is the draw.
“Hey it’s tough out here,” Khamphoumy said. “As long as I can save a little money, I will.”
Brad Spratte, a life-long Northlake resident who attended nearby Lakeside High School, is the franchised operator of the new Chick-fil-A at Northlake Festival. Having relocated from the Chick-fil-A restaurant at Tucker Station a few miles away, Spratte said he’s pleased to continue doing business in the Northlake area.
“Chick-fil-A may have grown to be the second-largest chicken restaurant chain in the country, but our ideals today are no different than those Truett Cathy exemplified when he started Chick-fil-A 43 years ago,” Spratte said in a news release, adding that he likes continuing the friendly neighborhood environment Cathy created.
The new Northlake Festival Chick-fil-A features a 4,275-square-foot interior that seats 144 with additional outdoor seating. It has a drive-through and an indoor children’s play area featuring an interactive section for toddlers.