Supporters flock to Chick-fil-A
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY —At 11:47 a.m. Wednesday, Betty Sunding and Maria Perkins found the back of line that snaked around the Salisbury Chick-fil-A.
Eighteen minutes later, the women had moved about 25 feet.
“We’ll wait as long as it takes,” Perkins said.
“We have good, sturdy shoes,” Sunding said.
Like thousands of other Chick-fil-A fans in Salisbury, the women wanted to show their support for company president Dan Cathy, who told the Baptist Press recently that the company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.”
In a later radio interview, Cathy ratcheted up the rhetoric: “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ ”
Gay-rights advocates have called for a boycott of the restaurant.
Forty-four minutes later, Perkins and Sunding finally made it inside, where someone burst into song. Dozens joined in singing, “Amazing Grace.”
“It was a real festive occasion,” Sunding said.
One hour after they got in line, the women received their food. Like other patrons, they were happy to wait.
“It’s time corporations take a stand for what they believe in instead of being cowards and bending to political pressure,” said N.C. Rep. Fred Steen, one of several Republican politicians who showed up for the appreciation day.
Chick-fil-A owner Bo Hawkins said the restaurant recorded more than 2,700 transactions Wednesday, double a typical day.
“It was an incredible day,”said Hawkins, who started work at 8 a.m. and was still at the restaurant at 10:30 p.m. “We are very appreciative of the support the Salisbury community showed.”
While traffic was backed up on East Innes Street most of the day and cars in line for the drive-through wrapped around the building, not everyone in Salisbury was chewing on Chick-fil-A Wednesday.
“I will never step foot in that place as long as I live,” said Bob Lambrecht, who lives in Salisbury and married another man in 2008 in California.
Lambrecht said he used to enjoy Chick-fil-A until he learned the Cathy family foundation has given millions of dollars to groups that work to ban gay marriage, such as the Family Research Council.
Cathy has said all people are welcome at Chick-fil-A.
“They are more than willing to take money from people who they are saying don’t have the same rights that they do,” Lambrecht said.
While national groups are calling for a same-sex “kiss-in” Friday at Chick-fil-A locations, gay-rights groups in Salisbury said they don’t plan a protest or demonstration against Chick-fil-A.
Salisbury-Rowan Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, respects Cathy’s right as CEO “to espouse even discriminatory opinions,” said Mike Clawson, president of the local chapter and state PFLAG coordinator.
Events like Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day spread the word about the company’s long-held beliefs, Clawson said, and could ultimately backfire.
“Frankly, many LGBT persons and their straight allies never realized the anti-gay sentiment of Chick-Fil-A, so now they, like me, have the option of boycotting if they so wish,” Clawson said.
Tamara Sheffield, coordinator of the recent Salisbury Pride event that drew about 1,500 people to downtown Salisbury, said her organization doesn’t plan to respond to the Chick-fil-A controversy.
Vince and Annette Cerullo, who live in Mount Gilead and planned to eat lunch at Hap’s Grill in downtown Salisbury, saw an email about the Chick-fil-A event.
They ate chicken sandwiches instead of hotdogs for lunch.
Annette Cerullo said she appreciates Cathy’s anti-gay rights stance and supports his decision to close the restaurant on Sundays.
Others at the restaurant said they don’t see Cathy as “anti” anything, but pro-family and pro-America.
‘Standing upfor a moral issue’
The company is standing up for what it believes in, said James Dicus, not attacking or hating anyone.
Many diners said boycotts against the restaurant amount to persecution, and they support Cathy’s willingness to speak out in support of the traditional definition of marriage.
“It’s a good thing that a company and a CEO are willing to stand up for a moral issue,” John Morgan said.
Marketing director Dustin Wilson stood in the parking lot for hours, directing traffic. He said supporters starting showing up around 8 a.m., with big crowds descending on the restaurant at 10:30 a.m.
The largest rush came Wednesday evening, when more than 400 members of Cornerstone Church came to eat in lieu of the church’s regular mid-week service.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Wilson said.
The lobby was packed with customers, who for the most part were good-natured as they waited to give orders to exhausted employees. About 60 of the restaurant’s 75 workers clocked in on Wednesday.
“We came with patience,” customer Dewey Bryan said.
“And support,” added Dot Gandy.
Eddee Foy said she planned to eat at Chick-fil-A every day this week, and Peachye Kluttz said she planned to return Wednesday night with her husband.
“It’s awesome,” said Sherry Kale, who ate breakfast and lunch at Chick-fil-A and planned to eat supper there as well. “Conservatives coming out.”
While she wouldn’t call it a boycott, Karen South Carpenter said she’s choosing not to patronize Chick-fil-A.
Business owners have every right to support whatever organizations they want, Carpenter said, but consumers also can choose where to spend their dollars.
Carpenter said she gives Cathy credit for not trying to hide his beliefs or the organizations that Chick-fil-A supports.
“It would be nice if all companies were so transparent,” she said. “I imagine many of us would be surprised to learn who receives, indirectly, some of our money.”
Cindy Godwin said she doesn’t know if it is right or wrong to marry someone of the same sex.
“I do, however, know that if someone makes someone else happy, they deserve to be happy,” Godwin said on Facebook. “As far as the Chick-fil-A thing going on, they have the right to their opinion, the right to say what their stance is on a particular matter, and the right to own and operate a corporation that instills Christian morals.”
Some saw the event as just another advertisement.
“Best PR stunt ever,” Danny Fogal said on Facebook. “(Cathy) has used-car dealers going back to the drawing board.”
Others said they avoided Chick-fil-A on Wednesday to save time, not to make a political statement.
“And normally if I go out to eat, I would avoid a place that has crowds like that,” Kimberly Yager Dougherty said on Facebook. “Waiting hours for a chicken sandwich? No thank you!”
Several people said freedom of speech, not gay marriage, was the issue at hand.
“I went today to stand up for another American’s right to free speech,” Stash Query said on Facebook. “Could care less about who marries who.”
Greg Edds, chairman of the Rowan County Republican Party, said critics of Chick-fil-A have derided the company for decades in an attack he called anti-Christian.
“This is not about gay marriage,” Edds said while he stood in line. “It’s about people having the right to have a different opinion.”
Catherine Bedell Reynolds said liberals are trying to paint Chick-fil-A as homophobic.
“It’s about the First Amendment,” Reynolds said on Facebook. “The 91-year old founder of this restaurant should be able to support the causes he believes in (with) his private dollars.”
Conservatives would be outraged if Chick-fil-A truly discriminated against gay people, she said.
“We would stand with them if this was actual discrimination, not the (politically correct) moral outrage du jour,” Reynolds said.
Jon Campbell disagreed.
“Discrimination hurts. So I’m glad I’m not gay,” Campbell said on Facebook. “And if I do eventually have a gay child, I hope it is an America where they have the ability to spend their lives with someone they love while being given all the rights given to any loving couple.”
Andre Perkins of Greensboro said he didn’t know about the appreciation day until he arrived at the Salisbury restaurant for lunch. Chick-fil-A is the only fast food joint where he would stand in line for an hour, Perkins said.
Marriage should be between a man and woman, and “any other way is counter to God’s will and … a successful culture,” said Perkins.
Interpreting God’s will can be tricky, Tyler Puckett said.
“I don’t eat at Chick-fil-A because I’m not sure if they drain and bury the blood of the chicken before they pressure cook it,” Puckett said. “Leviticus instructs us to do that…17:13.”
While LaDonna Moore Torres and her kids waited two hours from the time they reached East Innes Street to the time they left the drive-through, Lambrecht said he planned to dine at Kentucky Fried Chicken on Wednesday.
KFC is owned by PepsiCo, a company known for supporting gay rights and a sponsor of Salisbury Pride.
“We have come a long, hard way in this fight,” Lambrecht said. “Everybody has a right to their religious beliefs, but I will choose to spend my money elsewhere.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.