It is Friday morning, and the new Chick-fil-A restaurant on Rockford Street in Mount Airy is a blur of activity even though it won’t open for nearly two more weeks.
Workers are sprucing up around the already well-manicured exterior of the sparkling 4,500-square-foot structure, and inside a local cleaning crew is applying cloths to various surfaces. Four young men, part of a team assisting in launching the new restaurant, are seated in what will be its front entrance area, each hard at work on a laptop computer.
Another person is pacing around the kitchen section, a man wearing shorts and a Mount Airy Bears T-shirt who turns out to be Chad Tidd, the owner-operator of the local Chick-fil-A. He is being visited by a county health inspector who’s making sure everything is ready to go for the restaurant’s opening on Sept. 13.
Businesses have come and gone on the local dining scene over the years, but few arrivals have been as eagerly anticipated as Chick-fil-A, according to officials of both the city government and Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce. An appreciation for its chicken sandwich and other menu items is the main motivating factor, they say.
However, the mention of Chick-fil-A has meant more than just food this summer — with a major controversy cooked up as well. It started with the company’s CEO, Dan Cathy, taking a public stand against gay marriage, although the restaurant chain already was well-known for promoting what it considers Christian values.
Cathy said he backs “the biblical definition of the family unit,” a marriage between one man and one woman. He also believes gay marriage invites “God’s judgment on our nation.”
Those comments led to a public outcry on both sides — including protesters who urged boycotts and gay “kiss-ins” at Chick-fil-A locations, and supporters who purposely patronized the restaurant to reinforce what they considered Cathy’s right to free speech.
However, Chad Tidd is not concerned with those events, even with picketers being known to appear at Chick-fil-A grand openings.
“I guess my vision for the business is pretty simple,” Tidd said during an interview.
This includes a short- and long-term focus for the new, 144-seat business that is employing 60 to 70 people, including both full- and part-time positions.
“The biggest message is that we’re opening on Sept. 13,” Tidd said of his immediate concern for Chick-fil-A. Beyond that, “It’s just the fact that me personally, and just our brand in general, is in the hospitality business,” he added.
“I’m in the hospitality business, and it’s really no more complicated than that.”
While the mere mention of Chick-fil-A can elicit a number of possible reactions, Tidd is focused on the basics:
“It’s very simple — it’s about food and an atmosphere of hospitality. When you talk about Chick-fil-A, that’s what I want people to think about.”
When it comes to a large restaurant or retail chain, the public might not necessarily see the owner behind the counter — usually he or she is sequestered in an office in some skyscraper.
But that’s not the case with Tidd.
“The neat thing about the opportunity is it’s so personal,” he said of his role as owner/operator. “It is very hands-on.”
Tidd had to undergo an intense selection process for that by Chick-fil-A’s upper management after joining the company about two and a half years ago. “Just to get this opportunity was amazing for me,” he said.
The 2000 graduate of Clemson University, with a degree in pre-veterinary medicine, moved here from the upstate area of South Carolina, and before being employed by Chick-fil-A worked for a turf company in a sales capacity. During two summers while in college, he also had a job on a cattle ranch.
“I’ve always had an affinity for cows, but more for chicken now,” joked Tidd, who does acknowledge the importance of bovines to the company’s advertising campaign that urges people to “Eat mor chikin.’”
In addition to the company selecting Tidd for the owner-operator opportunity here, he is making an investment in the venture as well.
“I’m the sole proprietor of this business in Mount Airy,” he explained, and his role, “the way I see it, is to steward the (Chick-fil-A) brand.”
Tidd visited the city for the first time last December and was impressed right off the bat. He has moved his family here, including wife Reagan, who is assisting in the administrative end of the business, and their two children: daughter, Greer, 5, and son, Luke, 3.
Since the family has arrived, Tidd has immersed himself in the community and impressed those he has encountered with his enthusiastic personality and drive. He is equally complimentary of Mount Airy.
“This has been the most-hospitable place that I have ever spent any time in,” he said. “It’s been a tremendous experience for all of us.”
In addition to being a fan of Clemson football, Tidd and his family are outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy activities such as hiking.
Grand-openings of Chick-fil-A restaurants tend to be major events — even without the spectre of the recent gay-marriage debate.
People are known to travel from place to place for those openings, attracted by the chance to be among the first 100 customers served and win 52 free meals — essentially one per week for a year. Tidd expects folks from all over the U.S. to attend the grand opening, which also will include other special activities.
Registration for the first 100 will begin at 6 a.m. the day before the grand opening, on Sept. 12, and must be done by computer at the Chick-fil-A web site. Instructions there explain the process, said Tidd, who added that no registrations will be handled at the restaurant itself.
He expects some to camp out as part of the promotion that will culminate with the first 100 customers being served at 6 a.m. on Sept. 13.
Though much fanfare is accompanying the launching of the business, Tidd’s goal, again, is to keep it simple, while also being somewhat ambitious:
“I want to break the Chick-fil-A opening sales record for the state of North Carolina,” he said. And based on the anticipation gauged so far, “I think this is a place where we can make it happen.”
And if any protesters happen to show up on Sept. 13?
“We’ll just welcome everyone who is there with open arms,” Tidd said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.