By Sarah Fentem and John Santore
There’s no doubt the recent Chick-fil-A controversy has affected business at the chain’s only Chicago franchise.
Supporters showed up in droves Wednesday to Chicago's only local store and Wabash. Mike Huckabee, the conservative former Republican governor from Arkansas, had declared August 1st “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day”. The news spread through social networks and word-of-mouth, and by noon, a long line stretched out the store's door and down Wabash Avenue.
On July 16, Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy ignited a firestorm after he told the Baptist Press that he backed "the biblical definition of the family unit."
Last week, the issue blazed into Chicago after Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that "Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago's values." Shortly after, 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno announced he wouldn't allow the planned construction of a new franchise location to go forward.
An informal poll of about 50 customers outside the restaurant found more than 30 who were explicitly there to support the chain in the wake of the controversy.
Some customers said they came to show solidarity for Cathy’s views. “The man was asked a question,” said Priscilla Stabler. “He told the truth, and the truth prevails.”
Others said they turned out to support what they labeled as an exercise of free speech. "They love to say that Chicago is a city of diversity,” said suburban resident Patrick Friedline. “Well, that's a diversity of ideas, too."
Owner Lauren Silich,declined to grant interviews, saying she “had a restaurant to run.” However, Kate Sosin, a senior reporter for the local LGBT publication Windy City Times, said Silich told her earlier this week that business had increased in recent days.
But the attention hasn’t been all positive. The gay community has been sponsoring anti-Chik-fil-A events around the city. For example, the Boystown restaurant Hearty Boys is hosting “Chick-fil-Gay Appreciation Day” Wednesday. Hamburger Mary’s, in Uptown, now features a “hate-free” Southern-style chicken sandwich.
Sosin said the Chicago LGBT community is no stranger to Chick-fil-A’s stance against gay marriage. Before the first Chicago location opened last spring, the gay-rights organization GetEqual hosted a protest where they handed out fake “Bigot-fil-A” coupons.
“I think a lot of people who regularly read LGBT news maybe know about the Chick-fil-A donations in the past,” Sosin said, referring to financial contributions the organization has made to organizations like the Family Research Council. “But I think the media attention has grabbed people, even people who don’t normally follow [LGBT news]”.
“I think a lot of people won’t go there now," Sosin added.
But on Wednesday, suburban resident Susan Moody was proud to be a patron, even after receiving what she described as heavy criticism from her friends.
“I ended up just saying, look, 'I love all you guys',” Moody said, “and we have strong opinions. I'm going tomorrow and having a chicken sandwich, and I’m going to stand up for our free speech for all, big and small."