Chick-Fil-A: A Family Legacy The Chick-fil-A restaurant chain began with a single location in Atlanta, Ga., back in 1967. Chick-fil-A's founder talks about the road to becoming one of the largest family-owned businesses in the United States, with more than 1,000 restaurants.
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Chick-Fil-A: A Family Legacy

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Chick-Fil-A: A Family Legacy

Chick-Fil-A: A Family Legacy

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And we have another anniversary to tell you about. This is for those of you who love your wings.

The Chick-fil-A restaurant chain has just marked its 40th anniversary. It began as one restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia back in 1967. Today, Chick-fil-A is one of the largest family-owned businesses in the U.S., with more than a thousand restaurants in 37 states and Washington, D.C.

Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy joins me from Georgia Public Radio in Atlanta. Welcome.

Mr. TRUETT CATHY (Founder, Chick-fil-A): I'll be pleased to talk to with you.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for speaking with us. Tell me how you came up with the idea for Chick-fil-A.

Mr. CATHY: Well, we wanted chicken of some form of fashion, but it always took longer to cook than any other item on the menu. So we hit on the idea of de-boning the chicken. And once you do that, it reduces your cooking time down to half, regardless how you cook it.

And at this time, pressure friers came on the market. So we set a world's record cooking Chik-fil-A in four minutes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Oh, is that right?

Mr. CATHY: From beginning to end. So this means that our competition holds their chicken under the heat lamp for a period of time, but we like to serve our product, Chik-fil-A, in 15 minutes after it's prepared.

MARTIN: Now you - your folks say that you invented a chicken sandwich. Now you really mean to tell me nobody slapped some chicken between some bread before you came up with it? Come on, now.

Mr. CATHY: Well, it's true. Who ever heard of putting a chicken breast, a gourmet-type product, in a sandwich and serve it as fast food? But we claim we didn't invent the chicken, just the chicken sandwich. Someone else invented the chicken.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Now all sorts of fast food places make chicken sandwiches now. How do you still compete?

Mr. CATHY: Well, we do it not along to qualify product, but the quality of people we've been able to attract. Because normally, you go in fast food, just get in and get out as quickly as possibly can. And if you happen to say thank you at Chick-fil-A, your response should be, my pleasure. And most of the time, your response is various things, but like you're welcome. That's very common word to respond to thank you. But it's meaningless.

But we train our people to look customers in the eye and say my pleasure. And it is a pleasure to serve people, and as I recall - and to be able to serve people, meet the necessities of life.

And also a lot of people go out to eat when they're not even hungry. But they're looking for a pleasant experience, and so we hope once a customer comes in, they will come back and go out of the way to eat with you.

MARTIN: You talked about how serving people is a high calling. And I noticed that the restaurants are still closed on Sunday.

Mr. CATHY: Right.

MARTIN: Why is that?

Mr. CATHY: Well, that's a decision we made more than 60 years ago, and when we dare not vary. It was probably very best business decision of (unintelligible) closing on Sunday. When you work six days a week, 24 hours a day, you have, you're ready for a break.

But two things it does for me: number one, it honors God. Secondly is, it helps attract the kind of people appreciate having Sunday off. Whether they worship or not, it's their choice. But everybody desires to have Sunday off, because that's when their friends normally get off. But nowadays, Sundays, they seem to be a shopping day rather than a day of worship and day of time with your family.

It's important to me, is to maintain that time and family unity, because to see so many families just broken up because of the fact they don't spend time together. You know, I think fathers make mistake. They're trying to get - they give things to their children they didn't get when they's a little kid. But they're failing to give them their, the time, the quality time that they need. (unintelligible) 13-year-old boy's in Sunday school, and I've been told that a child has a 50-50 chance that both mom and dad living in the same roof together. So we try to stabilize that family (unintelligible) again.

MARTIN: Make it a little easier. You know, restaurants were a kind of a focus of activism in the '40s and '50s and '60s, because they were segregated.

Mr. CATHY: Yeah.

MARTIN: I think when you were coming up, restaurants would have been segregated. I want to ask how did you feel about that, and when the change came, how was that for you?

Mr. CATHY: Well, that never has change with me. I have a lot of dedicated, committed black people. They will work with us, very dedicated. I pride myself on a lot of outstanding persons, just because they're a different color. (unintelligible) mean their quality. Well, I look for the quality of the individual. And it's important for me that they've been able to maintain, take care of their own life, as well as business life.

I had one lady who made pies for me for 45 years. I have another young man who is now is assistant county school superintendent, (unintelligible) County started work for me when he was 12. And I hope to see him on through college, and a great, great guy.

MARTIN: And, you know, I have to ask you about the cows. I have to ask you about those cows.

Mr. CATHY: Well, that's very popular. Everybody's (unintelligible) and the cows.

MARTIN: Everybody knows about your cows. For people who don't know that you have these ads, and you've been using them for years, where the cows are writing the billboards saying, you know, eat more chicken.

Mr. CATHY: Yes.

MARTIN: Who came up with those cows?

Mr. CATHY: Well, I wish I could take credit for it. I just pay the bills, and I didn't think so much of it in the beginning. But I began to realize, gee, people like that. And we've been using it for 11 years now. And keeps on gaining momentum, so I don't know how long we'll use it, but the cows have been very good for us and everybody like it except people in the cattle industry. They said, don't be bad mouthing the cows. Things are bad enough like they are. But it's just a fun thing. And our people think they enjoy it. It's not often that you do an ad where people look forward to what the next billboard's going to say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, congratulations on 40 years, 40 years at Chick-fil-A, and, of course, all of the many years in the business before that. Do you have any plans to retire?

Mr. CATHY: Right. Why would I want to retire? I'm only 86, so why would you retire for something you enjoy doing? But I do enjoy my work. Every day, I get an automobile to head to the office. I can't hardly wait to get there, knowing there's going to be problems to solve. But there's enough good things that happen that motivates me to continue doing what I'm doing. And I'm having fun.

MARTIN: Are you still eating chicken?

Mr. CATHY: Oh, every day. Oh, I would hope that you do, too. You know, people ask me how do you keep your energy going? And I say, well, you eat more chicken, and that does the job. Up here, we realize it's very nutritious and very edible and very delicious.

MARTIN: Truett Cathy is the founder and chairman of Chick-fil-A restaurants. He joined us from Georgia Public Radio in Atlanta. Thank you, sir.

Mr. CATHY: Oh, my pleasure.

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