Chick-fil-A grand opening draws 24 hour crowd

 
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BY JUSTIN REGAN —

It was three degrees outside at 5:45 a.m on Jan. 16. A group of dedicated individuals hung out on the frozen asphalt of the Milton Road and Riordan Road parking lot. They huddled around heaters and played cards to begin their 24-hour wait for the opening of the famous chicken sandwich eatery Chick-fil-A.The campout has been a Chick-fil-A tradition for many years and has spawned an environment of food, games and its own subculture.

Lorin Pope, a former mechanical engineering student, sits by his campfire Wednesday evening next to his brother Garrison Pope outside the new Chick-fil-A on Milton. Lorin who was sent by his wife "to get some free food," planned on sleeping outside till 6:00 A.M. to be one of 100 participants to receive a free sandwich every week for a year.  (Photo by Sean Ryan)

Lorin Pope, a former mechanical engineering student, sits by his campfire Wednesday evening next to his brother Garrison Pope outside the new Chick-fil-A on Milton. Lorin who was sent by his wife “to get some free food,” planned on sleeping outside till 6:00 A.M. to be one of 100 participants to receive a free sandwich every week for a year. (Photo by Sean Ryan)

“Every Chick-fil-A grand opening has this event,” said Stephanie Phillips, a member of the Chick-fil-a marketing team. “It starts at Wednesday morning at 6 a.m., and we give a hundred people a spot and they stay here overnight ‘til Thursday at 6 a.m.”

The first one hundred people to show up on Wednesday and stay through Thursday earn free Chick-fil-A for a year.
“You started signing in at six o’ clock in the morning,” said Gabrielle Garcia, a Flagstaff resident. “But we got here early just in case.”

Those who are given a spot must then camp out by the Chick-fil-a for 24 hours before the grand opening — leaving the premises results in a disqualification

“We got our tent; we got a bunch of sleeping bags,” Garcia said. “We’re going to try to stay warm and have some fun.”

In the 24-hour period, contestants were required to stay on the grounds, but were let into the eatery and fed Chick-fil-A for breakfast, lunch and dinner for free. From noon until dark, they played games, held trivia contests and even participated in a scavenger hunt. A police officer patrolled during late-night hours for the safety of those sleeping over, and to make the low temperatures more bearable, there were a few restaurant-style heaters scattered through the lot.

“We supply two of the heaters and [a] third one, someone actually went and bought today,” Phillips explained.

All participants showed extreme dedication to the fast-food restaurant, but resident Mark Nobel, a Los Angeles resident, has made a nine-year commitment to the Chick-fil-A grand openings. Nobel took the Greyhound bus from California to Flagstaff to arrive at his ninth grand opening at 2 a.m. on Jan. 16.

“To spend $148 to get down here is well worth it,” Nobel said. “I get a free party, games, get to meet people; the only drawback is the cold weather. This is my coldest Chick-fil-A I have ever done.”

While Nobel’s nine appearances are impressive, Richard Coley, who claims to be the “ravingest fan” of Chick-fil-A, has attended 93 grand openings, which have taken him to 22 states across the country. He has been in San Antonio, Texas during 106-degree heat and has now braved the blistering cold of Flagstaff.  He totes a pin that reads “Richard Coley, Raving Fan,” which the president of Chick-fil-A presented to him.

“I came upon the radar [of the Chick-fil-A president] after I had done 15 of these things,” Coley said. “At that point, nobody had done that many, so he showed up at one of the openings that I was at and he said, ‘Richard, you look like you can use a pin or a button. I’ll have my people make one for you right now.’”

Coley, a Florida resident, enjoys attending these events because he sees them as a celebration of the company he has personally come to love so much.

“As I spent time sitting in the parking lots, I listened to stories and I heard about the quality of the food, the quality of the employees, the quality of the management and the quality of the corporation itself,” Coley said. “I was so impressed, I wanted to do anything and everything that I could to support them and show my support. I’m here as much for them as I am for myself.”

After months of buildup and eager anticipation, Chick-fil-A opened its Flagstaff doors at 6 a.m. on Jan. 17. The campout’s participants left in high spirits, armed with free chicken.

 

 

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