New Yorkers waited all night for Chik-fil-A, despite dreary weather


Hundreds lined up along Sixth Avenue, hoping to win a year's worth of free meals. Photo by Matthew Gorman. Despite a weekend of rainy weather caused by Hurricane Joaquin, on October 2 hundreds of people braved the unpleasant weather to wait in line outside Chick-fil-A's first location in New York City in the hopes of winning a year of free Chick-fil-A meals.

Chick-fil-A, which will open its New York City location at the corner of West 37th Street and 6th Avenue on October 3, decided to hold a "First 100" celebration in honor of its grand opening. For a chance to win 52 weeks of free Chicken Sandwich Meals, contestants had to be residents within a 30-mile radius of the location and one of the first 300 people to arrive at the location between 5:30 and 6 PM on October 2. The first 300 were included in a drawing and 100 finalists were selected at random from the drawing.

The 100 winners were required to camp out inside the restaurant from 6 PM on October 2 to 6 AM on October 3, at which time they will receive digital offer cards to use for their one-year supply and the restaurant will officially open its doors to the public. This event "will award more than $32,000 in free food to 100 local residents," according to a press release published on September 28.

The line began forming as early as 4 pm on the windy night of October 2, stretching down several blocks along Sixth Avenue despite the consistent rainfall and cool temperature.

Adrian Smith, a New Jersey resident who works in Tribeca, decided to wait in line and won a spot among the First 100 - which meant spending part of his birthday inside the restaurant.

First 100 winners spent the night inside New York City's first Chick-fil-A restaurant. Photo by Madison Iszler.

"I was super excited [about Chick-fil-A opening a branch in New York City], especially when I saw the day it was supposed to open, because October 3 is my birthday," said Smith. "My wife said, 'You know, if you don't go [wait in line], you're just going to regret it,' so I went. [When I won] I started yelling."

The privately-held company came under fire, especially from New Yorkers, after Dan T. Cathy, the chain's chief executive, expressed his disapproval of same-sex marriage and support for "the biblical definition of the family unit" in 2012, according to The New York Times.

Nevertheless, the New York City location is expected to draw "more traffic than any of its other more than 1,900 stores," according to the Times, and will open another location at 46th Street and Sixth Avenue in 2016. The three-story building will operate under 18 employees, who will use iPads to take orders from customers.

Some of the First 100 winners watch "Night at the Museum" via live stream on the wall of a building across the street. Photo by Madison Iszler.

Hannah Swain, a freshman from Atlanta who is attending The King's College in lower Manhattan, arrived at 5 pm to wait in line with friends. The chilly temperature, rain and discomfort of standing in line amid rushing New Yorkers clutching umbrellas was miserable.

"I was shivering so hard I couldn't even talk," said Swain. "I thought, 'Even if we get chosen, I don't know if I can do this!'"

She doubted whether she would make the cut, but approximately 50 people in, her ticket number was called, and nearly all of her friends made the cut as well.

Matthew Gorman, a student at New York University, came prepared - he brought two umbrellas, a poncho, dry socks, hats and more. He turned down a weekend trip to Washington D.C. with friends, a friend's party in Brooklyn and "obviously my bed" to wait in line.

Hannah Swain and Ann Marie Carlson, two students at The King's college, were two of the First 100 winners. Photo by Hannah Swain.

Though there is a Chick-fil-A Express for students inside the food court at NYU, Gorman heard about the restaurant opening a location for the general public in New York City and kept checking online until the company announced the opening date.

"Once I found that, I knew I had to come out here, so I was absolutely thrilled to make the cut." said Gorman in an email. "Felt like it's my duty as a New Yorker from the South (well, Maryland) to be here for this."

This is the second meal challenge Gorman has participated in since moving to New York City. In 2014 he purchased one of the 1,000 unlimited Pasta Passes sold by Olive Garden, which he initially planned to use every day but only ended up using a few times over the two months that it was valid.

"While the Olive Garden thing was a terrible idea to begin with, I think I can manage to bike my way up here once a week for some Chick-fil-A," said Gorman.

Once the 100 winners had been selected, Chick-fil-A employees provided dinner, snacks and breakfast the following morning for those spending the night inside the restaurant, as well as blankets, chairs and sleep masks for comfort as they prepared to hunker down for the night.

Chick-fil-A employées provided blankets, chairs and sleep masks for those spending the night inside the restaurant. Photo by Hannah Swain.

Employees also planned activities for winers, which included dance-offs, a talent show and a rock, paper and scissors competition (which Swain won). Employees set up a live streaming of "Night at the Museum" on the wall of a building across the street that those inside the restaurant could tune into using wireless headphones distributed by the company.

"I just met all of these random people today, and now we're having a massive sleepover together," said Swain.

Many of those whom she met inside had never eaten Chick-fil-A before but were willing to wait in the rain for a year's worth of free meals from the popular fast-food chain. Many New Yorkers are unfamiliar with the popular Southern restaurant, and "more than three-fourths of the 160 people hired to staff the Manhattan location were similarly unfamiliar," according to the Times.

"There are so many people from the South and the North here. It's amazing how many people who have never had Chick-fil-A came and waited," said Swain. "I can't even comprehend how successful [this location is] going to be. Whether from the North or the South, there are so many people who are sold on the culture."