What's It Take to Open Your Very Own Chick-Fil-A?
Chick-fil-A representatives share the inside scoop on how you can get into an owner/operator role with the company.
There are seemingly countless franchise restaurants throughout the Chicago area where customers can stop in or drive through to grab a bite to eat.
In the past year, though, one franchise's arrival on the food landscape has drawn a lot of attention—Chick-fil-A. The Atlanta-based chicken sandwich franchise has opened three suburban locations—including one in Orland Park—in addition to one in Chicago, near Loyola University.
With its spokes-cows advising the nation to “Eat Mor Chikin,” the chain has brought its unique southern-fried hospitality to the area.
The first Chick-fil-A restaurant opened in Atlanta in 1967 under the ownership of founder Truett Cathy. The goal from the beginning was clear: Make a great chicken sandwich and provide outstanding customer service.
Slowly, the brand spread across the South, and the company began to take off. But even as the empire was expanding across the nation beginning in the 1970s, it took until the 2010s for Chick-fil-A to reach the Chicago area.
During a Chick-fil-A Franchised Operator Information Seminar on July 18 in Hoffman Estates, Andrew Cathy, a Chick-fil-A operator selection committee member, shared insight into what it takes to become a partner and operator within Chick-fil-A.
As Cathy spoke, a screen behind him displayed specific characteristics the corporation looks for in a restaurant operator: an entrepreneurial mind; proven business leadership; geographical fit; a college degree or its equivalent in “real world” experience; a desire to have a full-time, hands-on job; and financial stewardship of the location.
Cathy said Chick-fil-A has no net-worth requirements for operators, citing that the model for ownership of a location hasn't changed since the company's inception. An initial $5,000 outlay is all it takes, financially, to get your foot in the door at Chick-fil-A.
“Five-thousand, really, at the time (in the 1960s), covered all the costs that it took to start a store,” Cathy said. “It covered all the food, paper goods and things that it took to stock the store back in the 1960s, which it's substantially more than that today—a whole lot more than that today. We just never changed the deal.”
However, just because somebody might have $5,000 handy and meets the other criteria doesn't mean he or she automatically qualifies to open a Chick-fil-A restaurant.
A potential owner also must never have filed for bankruptcy, must realize this is not an investment or equity opportunity—Chick-fil-A owns the land and restaurant, even though the owner runs it—and cannot have ownership with any other businesses or a second job.
Though the qualifications are steep, Cathy said, the company receives more than 20,000 expressions of interest applications a year. Of those 20,000, a select few make it to the actual application—a 17-page document that is all essay and is, as Doug Lockwood, owner of the Fox Valley Center location, said, your life history.
After the essay portion, those selected to move forward go through a phone interview and several face-to-face interviews both near their home and in Atlanta before they can be awarded an ownership opportunity.
For Lockwood, the entire process from expression of interest to getting a store took two-and-a-half years, with 15 interviews in total.
“It was a long process. The reason it is a long process is because it's very competitive,” Lockwood said. “But, I knew it was somewhere I was supposed to end up and I knew it was going to happen. So I stayed very patient and was fortunate enough after that long two-and-a-half years to be selected.”
Though the process of getting into business with Chick-fil-A is daunting, Cathy said the national average income for 2010 operators was $210,000—although that type of money is not guaranteed.
After talking about the ins and outs of how to get involved with Chick-fil-A, Cathy shared the basis of the business, the corporate purpose—the backbone of the corporate model: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”
The corporate purpose of the company brings God, service and stewardship together in a sandwich from a fast-food restaurant.
In keeping with the corporate purpose, Chick-fil-A restaurants are closed on Sundays to allow operators to “have an opportunity to rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so.” Although the Biblical and religious implications are clear, Cathy said that it's “just kind of how we are.”
“We really look at it as, there's Biblical principals that just work,” he said. “So that's kind of what we've based our business off of, is Biblical principals. What a person chooses to do though, that's on their own.”