DANBURY, Conn. -- Michael Read of Danbury is such a big fan of Chick-Fil-A that his family plans their road trips to Disney World so they can hit the fast-food restaurant twice a day. But now he doesn't have to travel so far to enjoy his favorite food.
Read was part of the crowd gathering Wednesday in the parking lot at the Danbury Fair Mall in anticipation of the opening of the city's first Chick-Fil-A restaurant in the food court on Thursday morning.
"I've been a fan for 10 years," Read said. "I always wondered, why don't we have a Chick-Fil-A here? I'm not a businessperson, but I thought it would be a good idea."
As part of the opening celebration of each new Chick-Fil-A, a fast-food eatery headquartered in Atlanta with many outlets in the South, the first 100 people to arrive get a card worth free meals for a year. And as part of that tradition, the lineup begins 24 hours in advance of the opening with the fast-food fanatics camping out in the parking lot.
The chill in the air and overcast skies -- combined withe threat of overnight rain -- was keeping the crowd small. Only about 20 people were in line as of 3 p.m. -- all officially signed in, decked out with a wristband and in possession of a Chick-Fil-A souvenir cup. A few were local; a few others had traveled from Southern New Jersey.
"We feed them breakfast, lunch and dinner while they're here," said Tiffany Simmons of CP Communications, who works with Chick-Fil-A on the opening celebrations. "We take good care of them. ... Sometimes people make seven- or eight-hour trips to be at a grand opening."
The Chick-Fil-A folks had set up a heated tent in the overflow parking lot where many had huddled -- and where they would spend the night on cots and in folding chairs. Leaving the parking lot, even to warm up in the car, is forbidden.
But one group set up camp chairs and tables in the middle of the lot. "We're enjoying the great outdoors, we like the fresh air," one man said as he put on his unnecessary sunglasses. "We'll move inside later."
Read joined others in line for a raucous game of musical chairs combined with a scavenger hunt; the Chick-Fil-A philosophy is to keep everyone warm, happy and occupied.
"We're playing games, we get to chat with people, we get to meet other Chick-Fil-A fanatics," he said.
Read more about Rich Beattie, the first-time business owner behind the new franchise in Danbury, here in the Daily Voice.
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