Feel like chicken tonight?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Suffolk News-Herald

&uot;We’re food people,&uot; Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy said Tuesday as he toured the company’s new restaurant on North Main Street Suffolk, pointing out the brand name ingredients that lined the shelves in the stainless steel kitchen.

&uot;Other fast food restaurants are run by accountants,&uot; he said. &uot;That’s what sets us apart.&uot;

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From Dole pineapples and Dixie Crystals sugar to Sue-Bee Honey and Kraft Mayonnaise, Cathy said it’s the quality ingredients, as well as the way Chick-fil-A treats its customers, that makes the difference in how the food tastes.

&uot;You won’t find anything back here that just fell off the truck,&uot; he said.

Festivities surrounding Thursday’s grand opening of the Chick-fil-A restaurant in Suffolk began Tuesday with a visit from Cathy and other company officials. A dinner for employees and family members was held Tuesday night, to be followed by an invitation-only free feast for what Cathy described as &uot;Chick-fil-A Fanatics&uot; on Wednesday night, followed by Thursday’s grand opening at which the first 100 adult customers will be treated to a year of Chick-fil-A eating. Company representatives spent last week going around Suffolk handing out cards and identifying &uot;fanatics&uot; who were invited to tonight’s event.

The Suffolk location is the first of 60 the company expects to open in 2005, Cathy said. Chick-fil-A currently operates about 1,150 stores in 37 states. He said the company invested about $2.3 million in the Suffolk operation that will employ 60 people.

Cathy is the son of company founder, S. Truett Cathy, who opened the first Chick-fil-A in Atlanta in 1967. According to the company’s Web site, his involvement in the business began as a child, when he sang songs for customers and did radio commercials.

That’s not much younger than Nicole Digby’s association with Chick-fil-A. Digby, operator of the Suffolk location, started with the company at 16 in Mississippi. At 25, Cathy noted she’s likely to

&uot;draw six figures&uot; from the Suffolk operation this year, sales from which are anticipated to exceed $2 million this year.

While Digby is younger than most operators, her story at Chick-fil-A is not unusual and a particular source of pride for Cathy. He said operator turnover rate is less than four percent, &uot;unheard of in this business.&uot;

He said the company provides a &uot;very nurturing&uot; environment, which keeps &uot;teammates&uot; around a long time.

&uot;We like to say the only way people leave Chick-fil-A is to retire or die,&uot; he joked.

Digby comes to Suffolk from the restaurant at Military Circle Mall, which she has managed for about a year and a half. She said she has found Suffolk so far to be a great place.

&uot;I look forward to meeting everyone,&uot; Digby said. &uot;It’s different here. I interviewed tons of people here, it’s a little smaller than other communities I’ve lived in. It’s just nice.&uot;