Chick-fil-A, the massive American fried chicken brand best known for its minimalist, much-imitated sandwich and its history of financial support for groups with retrograde, homophobic politics has opened its first U.K. restaurant. Reading’s Oracle Shopping Centre is the home of an indefinite opening that will close on Sundays, per both founder S. Truett Cathy’s “biblical principles” and the chain’s 2,300 U.S. restaurants, according to Propel.
The fried chicken chain, which posted sales of $10.5 billion in 2018 and is America’s third-largest fast food chain by sales — behind McDonald’s and Starbucks — is rumoured to be plotting a London restaurant, but regional U.K. cities are very much within its plans. As Eater’s Ryan Sutton observed in his review of Chick-fil-A, its Christian grounding make it a “community cornerstone” in religious regions of the United States; that will not be the case with its U.K. expansion. It arrives here without the internalised familiarity that allows its sandwich being tasty or its service being exceptional to function as an excuse for its politics — it’ll be just another fast food brand from which diners can choose, one that happens to be known nearly as well for fried chicken sandwiches as for funding discriminatory organisations.
It is the Christian faith baked into the brand’s DNA which has resulted in its million-dollar support for groups that have opposed same-sex marriage, and for a (now-dissolved) group that promoted conversion therapy, a bogus — and discredited — ideology that casts homosexuality as a curable illness. It has also funded the National Christian Foundation, one of the largest non-profit organisations in the U.S., which is financially entangled with a variety of religious organisations that have anti-LGBTQ practices or beliefs. Chick-fil-A said that this funding would stop in 2012, but recent account filings show donations to groups guilty of anti-LGBTQ discrimination through at least 2017.
The chain deflected from questions about further expansion, telling U.S. network CNBC that it is “focused on this location to help us understand more about consumer interest in our brand and signature menu items.” The captive audience market test-bed possibly suggests that the company is aware of likely, well-founded opposition to any stand-alone restaurant; convenience and ubiquity derived from scale is one of many ways the food media continues to justify patronising Chick-fil-A. That scale, and that community faith aren’t on tap in the U.K.: Chick-fil-A will be judged on its sandwiches and its politics.
Monday 14 October, 22:35 GMT: This article has been amended to reflect the correct name of Chick-fil-A’s founder, S. Truett Cathy, and to correct the fact that Chick-fil-A is the third largest fast food restaurant behind Starbucks, not Subway. It also clarifies the nature of Chick-fil-A’s funding of the National Christian Foundation.