CEDAR RAPIDS — Traveling from as far away as North Hollywood, Calif., fans of Chick-fil-A were camped out Wednesday in the parking lot of the chain's first freestanding store at Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids.
The chain, in a tradition that attracts people from across the nation, will hand out certificates for a year's Chick-fil-A meals — one per week — to the first 100 people lined up when the restaurant opens at 6 a.m. Thursday. The “First 100 Celebration” has quickly become a hallmark of each grand opening since the chain first held the event in Arizona in 2003.
More than 18 hours before the restaurant opened, the first person arrived and asked where to get in line. Since then, the chain has given away more than $16 million in free food at almost 600 grand openings.
Bob Schmidt, franchise operator of the newest Chick-fil-A, said about $26,000 worth of food will be given away before the first customer is rung up Thursday in Cedar Rapids. The more than 4,500-square-foot restaurant at 217 Collins Rd. NE seats 140 with an additional 26 outdoor seats.
Schmidt, who transferred to the new Lindale store from Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville, is no stranger to the Cedar Rapids area. He operated the Westdale Mall for nearly 24 years from 1983 to 2007 before transferring to Coralville.
The new Chick-fil-A, which will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, will employ about 80 people and features the chain’s latest interior and kitchen design along with dual drive-thru ordering lanes. About 55 percent of a typical Chick-fil-A restaurant's sales are generated by the drive-thru lanes.
Iowa’s first stand-alone Chick-fil-A restaurant opened in October 2008 in Davenport. The Atlanta-based chain opened another location Aug. 18 in West Des Moines and a Sioux City Chick-fil-A is slated to open next Thursday (Nov. 1).
Chuck Rice, Chick-fil-A senior architect of design and innovation, said the chain will continue to open locations inside of malls, but added the majority of the 96 new Chick-fil-A stores that the company will open this year will be stand-alone units with drive-thru lanes.
Founder Truett Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A restaurant inside Greenbriar Mall in Atlanta in 1967, pioneering the concept of fast-food restaurants and food courts in shopping malls. The company opened its first freestanding location with a drive-up lane in 1987.Chick-fil-A has grown to 1,666 restaurants in 39 states and Washington D.C.