`Chikin' fans form fowl line for coupons

Meals: Dozens queue up overnight to get vouchers for free food at the new Chick-fil-A in Westminster.

SUMMER In Carroll County

August 28, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

With their lawn chairs and laptops, they staked out spots on a shopping center parking lot well into the night. They pitched tents, played cards and strummed guitars against a steady stream of noisy traffic rushing along Route 140 in Westminster. Some brought Bibles and prayed through the balmy August night. Few slept during the 24-hour vigil.

The insomnia was all for "chikin" or, more accurately, 52 coupons each from Chick-fil-A, the national fast food chain that opened its second Westminster restaurant just after dawn Wednesday.

Since the company launched its First 100 Fans promotion nearly two years ago, promising 52 combo meal coupons to those willing to wait in line, it has found many willing to endure all kinds of weather, including tornado and flood warnings.

Chick-fil-A has spawned groupies, who have been known to trek miles to openings well beyond their neighborhoods.

Jonas Mitchell, a 21-year-old University of Maryland, Baltimore County student, wore his "I did the Shrewsbury, Pa., opening" T-shirt and a bracelet that said he was 35th in line Tuesday evening on the parking lot at Westminster Shopping Center.

"The thought of free meals keeps me awake," Mitchell said. "My last coupons were gone in two months."

Scott Cole, 20, another repeat line sitter, had spent the night in the pouring rain at the restaurant's Columbia opening.

"When you are in college and there's not a lot of money, if someone says `Free food,' I am there," said Cole, who attends Villa Julie College.

The Westminster line began forming about 24 hours earlier, when Charles Archambault took the lead. He arrived at 6:15 a.m., hoping to beat the college crowd, who typically participate in the promotions. As first in line, he also received a canvas chair for his 24-hour vigil.

"I was here 4 1/2 hours by myself, but then the crowd started to build," said Archambault, sporting a bracelet imprinted with the number 1. "I am off work on disability and would have been sitting home anyway. This was an adventure for me."

Dawn Archambault made the line at 85 and waited through the long night with her husband. So they have double the coupons. Neither one slept.

"We got so involved in everything, especially the midnight sundae social," he said. "We even met the CEO. We will be eating a lot of chicken for a while."

Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A and son of the company founder, frequently pulls all-nighters at the openings. He spent the evening outdoors socializing with the crowd last week. Employees, sporting ties with the company's logo, mingled, organized silly games and offered steaming cups of coffee.

About 20 members of Horizon Church in Owings Mills used the evening to offer fellowship, said pastor Clay Carver, whose wife, Allison, and 2-year-old daughter, Rachel, joined him in line. As Rachel slept in a port-a-crib, church members sang Christian music to guitar accompaniment and read their Bibles.

The Carver family arrived home with coupons about 7 a.m. Wednesday, weary but willing to try again sometime.

"We had a lot of fun out there with a lot of friends in perfect weather," Clay Carver said. "All the workers were fantastic and we got to hang out with great people."

Melissa Householder of Owings Mills lined her tent with fluffy pillows and set an alarm clock for 6 a.m. in case she fell asleep. She didn't.

"It got kind of rough about 4 a.m., but they gave great coffee," she said on her cell phone while driving home to Owings Mills. "I got to meet a lot of new people, and we all think we will do this again, but not for a while."

Steve Pavlosky, owner of the White Marsh Chick-fil-A, who frequently helps out with grand-opening festivities, offered his explanation for the mania that surrounds the event: "It's the same as a rock concert," he said. "Wouldn't you stay up all night for the Rolling Stones?"

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