Food Fight

Can the new Chick-fil-A avoid controversy?

This month, when Chick-fil-A opens its first full-fledged franchise in Minnesota, at the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, it may be the Georgia chain’s quietest opening in a Yankee state. Outside the Bible Belt, the purveyor of chicken sandwiches has been banned, boycotted, and sued—proudly, in some cases.

You see, Chick-fil-A, like the Blues Brothers, is on a mission from God—it says so right in its corporate purpose statement: “To glorify God.” It hires only those employees who share its values (inquiries into applicants’ marital status and church involvement—including interviews with family members—are reportedly par for the course). It once gave out Focus on the Family CDs, imparting “moral and Biblical principles,” with kids’ meals. It has supported the National Organization for Marriage and other groups pushing same-sex marriage amendments. It is also closed on Sundays, which concerned members of the Metropolitan Airports Commission last fall when they were asked to approve the franchise. With Minnesota already embroiled in a marriage debate, the chain’s inauspicious arrival presumably threatens to throw grease on the fire.

But the man who lured the company here, John Greer, the assistant director for concessions and business development at the airport, has faith. The franchise, like all the airport’s concessions, will be operated by HMS Host, which Greer says “has indicated it has no intention of using the venue to proselytize.” And he believes the restaurant will generate more revenue in six days than the previous tenants, A&W and Godfather’s Pizza, did in seven—combined. Ouch, Herman Cain. More important, after Northeastern University students in Boston voted this spring to bar the chain from campus, Chick-fil-A announced it would no longer donate to outside groups. It will still evangelize, just more discreetly. As the protests fade away, it may seem like any other chain and, the next time you’re starving at the airport, a chicken sandwich may seem simply like manna from heaven.