- Restaurant in garment district will be chain's largest in U.S.
- Crowded market includes new items from Shake Shack, McDonald's
Chick-fil-A, the Southern chicken-sandwich chain that has drawn both controversy and copycats over the years, has finally arrived in New York.
The company will open a 5,000-square-foot (465-square-meter), three-level restaurant in Manhattan’s Garment District on Saturday that will be the chain’s largest location in the nation. Chick-fil-A has operated a restaurant with a limited menu at New York University since 2004, but it took years to find a space for a proper expansion into the city, said David Farmer, vice president of product strategy.
“It’s not an easy market to find a great location,” he said in an interview.
The chain, started in Atlanta in 1967, is going after an increasingly crowded market. Though Chick-fil-A claims to have invented the chicken sandwich, the item has been embraced by many competitors -- including more upscale New York restaurants such as Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack Inc. and David Chang’s Fuku. McDonald’s Corp. has stepped up marketing of a buttermilk crispy chicken sandwich in recent months, taking direct aim at Chick-fil-A.
Farmer said his company’s signature sandwich -- breast meat, breaded and fried, garnished with pickles and served on a buttered bun -- will stand up to competition.
“We think there’s room for everybody,” he said.
Chick-fil-A, a family-owned company founded by Truett Cathy, has about 1,950 locations, almost exclusively in the U.S. Cathy famously kept his restaurants closed on Sundays to give his workers a break and honor the Sabbath. That policy remains in effect across the restaurant system and will apply in Manhattan. The store plans to close at 10 p.m. nightly, though that could change, Farmer said.
Chick-fil-A posted total sales of about $5.8 billion in 2014, making it the eighth-largest fast-food chain in the U.S., according to the research firm Technomic. But with fewer than 2,000 restaurants, Chick-fil-A’s average sales per restaurant of $3.1 million puts it well above competitors. McDonald’s had average of U.S. sales of about $2.5 million last year, while Burger King came in around $1.2 million, according to Technomic data.
Chick-fil-A drew fire in recent years for comments made by one of its executives opposing gay marriage -- a history that could raise hackles in the liberal-leaning Northeast. Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy, who went on to become chief executive officer, made a series of controversial remarks on the topic, prompting activists to stage protests. Cathy said last year that he regretted pulling the business into a firestorm.
“We’re not against anyone -- we want everyone to feel welcome,” Farmer said. “You can say that, but you have to prove that.”
Chick-fil-A also plans to open a restaurant in Long Island, and a second Manhattan location is under construction nine blocks north on Sixth Avenue. Farmer thinks the New York City locations could carve out a chunk of the lunch business from local office workers, and he expects the chain’s breakfast items to sell well in the area too. The store opening Saturday, which will be operated by Oscar Fittipaldi, has extra room in the kitchen to produce delivery and catering orders.
Chick-fil-A’s restaurants were located exclusively in shopping malls until 1986, when the company built its first freestanding site. Those restaurants typically do about 60 percent of their business at the drive-thru. To compensate in Manhattan, the chain is looking for heavy foot traffic and is setting up the restaurant to get customers their orders in four to six minutes.
“You have to be very focused on getting people in and out of the restaurant,” Farmer said.