At daybreak on April 19, 1969, my wife, Oleta, and I boarded the Central of Georgia Railway’s deluxe passenger train, the Nancy Hanks II, from Savannah to Atlanta. We looked forward not only to the ride but the excellent food service on this train, the breakfast served between Savannah and Macon and lunch between Macon and the grand old Terminal Station in Atlanta.
We planned to enjoy a relaxed journey home after the super busy grand opening week of Chick-fil-A of Oglethorpe Mall, the second Chick-fil-A mall restaurant. We chose the train so that we could spend time together dreaming and planning our future.
During that train ride, Oleta and I recognized our many opportunities and counted them as blessings. Our spirits were soaring, and all doubts were rapidly fading into obscurity.
When we boarded the Nancy Hanks II, we were on for a six hour, 200 mile ride. I tell young people, “When you choose the right boss, you can ride his train for a long way.” I am describing the “train” my family climbed onboard five months before the grand opening at Oglethorpe Mall, when we decided Truett Cathy was the right boss. When we boarded Truett’s “train” we were on for a 32-year, multi-million-mile ride.
The beginning of our journey with Chick-fil-A went smoothly. Obtaining a lease in the new enclosed Oglethorpe Mall came quickly. As a matter of fact, the developer, Scott Hudgens, sought us. His wife, a Chick-fil-A fan, shopped in Greenbriar Mall in Atlanta and told him that he should get Truett to open a Chick-fil-A restaurant in his new Oglethorpe Mall.
In fact, everything worked out reasonably crisis-free when we opened this second mall location. We had no problems obtaining permits and licenses. We had hired a building superintendent and built the leasehold improvements ourselves.
On the day of the grand opening, the people of Savannah flooded the beautiful, new mall and freely spent their money there. Opening sales at the new restaurant were excellent.
As Truett would ask later, “Is everybody happy?” By our smiles and actions, we all replied, “Yeah man, H – A – P – P – Y!”
Getting locations would never be this easy again. Until we had a solid market position with outstanding sales, opening restaurants in enclosed malls presented significant challenges. Mall developers were not interested in having a quick-service restaurant in their beautiful new malls. We faced enormous difficulties securing permits and licenses, dealing with contractors, negotiating with unions, and trying to work with government regulators. These obstacles tested us to the limit.
When I look back, I am glad we didn’t give a second thought to the challenges and difficulties ahead. I am glad we didn’t know how difficult it would be to build a restaurant chain.
That knowledge would not have discouraged me, but it certainly would have been a distraction to the joyful feeling of accomplishment and adventure that surrounded Oleta and me that day on the train ride home.
We were on Truett Cathy’s Chick-fil-A train, and we were going to ride, ride and ride. Success, make ready, here we come!
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