The scene: Officially launched in Georgia in 1967, founder Truett Cathy’s boneless fried chicken sandwich actually dates back to his Dwarf Grill, also in Georgia, in 1946 – predating McDonalds. Today Chick-fil-A locations are found in 40 states, and this is undoubtedly fast food, with drive-through windows, headphone-wearing counter staff and lots of paper bags and cups. But what makes it so odd in a sea of fast food options is the uniquely limited menu – there is really nothing else of scale like it. Chick-fil-A has not only survived changing times, but thrived, while completely ignoring hamburgers, hot dogs and most other styles of fast food (though they recently added shakes). It’s in the fried chicken camp, but unlike Popeye’s or KFC, doesn’t really serve fried chicken either. The menu is impossibly simple, built almost entirely around boneless chicken sandwiches, yet the company has had 45 straight years of positive growth, with sales last year exceeding $4.5 billion.
Chick-fil-A is a Southern institution that has quietly become part of the dining fabric of the entire country. It has locations in mall food courts, airports, even drive through-only outlets, but the majority are standalone roadside stores similar in scope to McDonalds or Burger King, where you can eat in, drive through or take out. The interiors are simple, classic fast food – synthetic tables and chairs in muted colors, easy-to-clean tile floors and counters where food is ordered and dispensed by uniformed staff with an open cooking area behind it. Privately and family owned, all Chick-fil-A locations are famously closed on Sundays due to the owners’ religious beliefs. The chain has periodically been in the media spotlight over its owners’ views, but I’m just here to judge the food.
Reason to visit: Chicken sandwich, Chick-n-Mini breakfast sandwiches
The food: In an increasingly complicated world, the reason for Chick-fil-A’s success is shockingly simple – they make a tasty fried chicken sandwich. This is especially true and obvious when compared to their main competition, the even-bigger national fast food chains that serve up processed patties of chopped something that tastes vaguely like chicken. Chick-fil-A’s sandwiches look better, as they are breast-shaped rather than unnaturally round, and they definitely taste better, with the breast consistently thick, juicy and served quite hot. It may not be gourmet, but it is as good as a fast food fried chicken sandwich gets.
SOURCE: Larry Olmsted
Special for USA TODAY