Got Chikin? Alumni Appreciate Chick-fil-A

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On August 1, 2012—Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day—the restaurant chain recorded the largest single-day sales total in its 66-year history.

Allison (Snavely, ’02) Urso, however, says every day is Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day in her house.

“We’ve really developed a passion for the company and what it stands for,” said Urso, who helps operate a franchise in Viera, FL, with her husband, Michael. “I love to go into the store and work the register, do hospitality in the dining room, and serve our employees and our community. We completely feel that working here is a gift God has given to us.”

Another Maranatha graduate, Robert Shaffer (’08), will open a new Chick-fil-A franchise in Ventura, CA, in January 2013. Shaffer has already hired several Maranatha graduates as part of his management team.

“We will be Chick-fil-A pioneers in our area,” Shaffer said.

Allison Urso, a Vocal Performance major at Maranatha, spent a year singing for the Chattanooga (TN) Opera Company. She and Michael had been teaching at a Christian school in the Charlotte, NC, area.

“A friend told us we’d be a great fit for Chick-fil-A,” Allison said. “We said, ‘What is Chick-fil-A?’ ”

Michael Urso soon became manager of one of the Charlotte stores in May of 2004, then was named owner/ operator of a franchise in Merritt Island, FL, two years later. The Ursos took over their current store in July of 2009.

Braden and Macy Urso, now 8 and 7, both required open-heart surgery as infants.

“That was when you really saw the difference it makes to work for Chick-fil-A,” Michael Urso said. “My team members took care of the business, came to visit us during the surgeries, prayed with us, and went out of their way to spend time with us. We were on a voluntary nationwide prayer chain. The business model is unique, but so is the values system. It’s a stark contrast to what goes on at other businesses.”

Chick-fil-A’s corporate public relations office said that only about 90 of approximately 22,000 applicants received franchises in 2011. One was Shaffer, a Business Management major at Maranatha who had worked with wife Mandy (Barrie, ’09) as a substitute operator at franchises around the country before earning the opportunity to stay put.

“I wanted to be an operator so I could have a greater opportunity to have a positive influence in others’ lives,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer said he saw his owner-operator only a couple times while working for another national fast food chain. “I will be in the store daily, building relationships that I wouldn’t build under another business model. I will be making the ‘people’ decisions.”

Quick service restaurant owners typically provide most of the initial capital investment and may own numerous locations. Chick-fil-A owners generally operate only one restaurant and must provide only an initial $5,000 deposit with no ongoing personal capital investment.

“One of my passions is to help people understand financial issues, to glorify God by being a faithful steward of what we’ve been given,” Shaffer said. “I hope I’ll be able to do that with my employees.”

“Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” was organized to help combat the negative reaction of some to founder and CEO Dan Cathy’s comments supporting traditional marriage and family structure. Many franchises experienced a record sales day. A store in Augusta, GA, had to close early after selling out its entire supply of chicken.

“We had a huge outpouring from the community, a record-breaking day,” Allison Urso said. “Our line was a mile long all day. We had guests who waited a long time for food, but not one complaint; they just wanted to show their love and support for Chick-fil-A.”

One employee worked all day after having his wisdom teeth removed a day earlier. Others volunteered to work double shifts.

“It was a phenomenal day,” Urso said.

Shaffer said crew members at his current location in Memphis seized an opportunity to “show hospitality to the LGBT community” when the workers brought out fresh tea and lemonade to the estimated 240 anti-Cathy protesters a few days later.

“When I think of my customers, I think of the single mom who is working two jobs and goes through the drive-thru with a carload of kids for what might be her one treat for the week,” Shaffer said. “We have the opportunity to make her feel cared for, to give her genuine hospitality and great-tasting food.

“I love the chicken, but it’s not about the chicken; it’s about the people.”