Chick-fil-A is gunning for the Big Apple. The fast-food chicken franchise reportedly has plans to open up "a good chunk" of stores in the largest city in the United States later this year, beginning the chain's long-awaited invasion of the Northeast. But before it starts salivating over the enormous and hungry New York City consumer base, the southern-fried Chick-fil-A must answer an important question: Can the notoriously conservative corporation win over one of the most liberal cities in America?
Chick-fil-A will open 108 restaurants this year — most of them urban and a good chunk of them in New York City, says Woody Faulk, vice president of design and innovation. "If we can't do it in New York, we have no business going anywhere else."
Sure, Chick-fil-A wants NYC, but does NYC want Chick-fil-A? Of course, fast food connoisseurs have been clamoring for one in the five boroughs for years. (A real one. The lone NYC location at the moment is buried inside a residence hall food court at New York University and carries a limited menu and hours.) But you may recall that the people running the chicken chain hold staunchly conservative values, particularly when it comes to same-sex marriage, that are not typically welcome in this arugula-eating metropolis. When the U.S. Supreme Court killed the Defense of Marriage Act in July 2013, Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy tweeted that it was a "Sad day for our nation." That was a full two years after same-sex marriage became legal in New York state, where support statewide for gay marriage is at 60 percent.
When the Chick-fil-A backlash first hit a crisis point in 2012, the mayors of culturally-similar cities Boston and San Francisco denounced the company. Then-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, ever the friend of the free market, said that it wasn't his or the government's place to comment on a private company's values. But Christine Quinn, who was at the time Speaker of the City Council and aiming for mayor herself, emphatically condemned Chick-fil-A, and even suggested the lone NYU location pack its bags. Quinn isn't mayor now, of course, but The New York Daily News reported that Bill de Blasio shared her sentiments.
Cathy has since walked back a bit from his previous statements on same-sex marriage, calling his vocal opposition a "mistake," and agreeing that his company should focus on selling chicken rather than becoming a political lightning rod. But it might be too late. The chain will forever be associated with Cathy's Southern Baptist leanings and we saw just last week, with Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, what can happen when a the leader of a company holds personal beliefs that clash with his customers'.
Whether or not Chick-fil-A can succeed in the city might depend on if it can convince enough New Yorkers to set aside ideological qualms. Will residents stomach Cathy's unsavory values for a taste of his chicken? Are there simply too many other good restaurants here for people to care? There's also might be an even greater danger to their bottom line in a city where rents are outrageous and every customer counts. Chick-fil-A is traditionally closed on Sundays. The hungover brunch crowd won't be happy about that.