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11 Filling Facts About Chick-fil-A

Earning the title of America's favorite fast food restaurant is not something that happens overnight. Founder S. Truett Cathy and his family have been selling their chicken sandwiches and waffle fries to hungry customers across much of the country for seven decades, and each year the company adds dozens and dozens of new locations to the map. If there isn't one already, chances are that there will be a Chick-fil-A near you soon, so here are some things that you might not know about the chain.

1. CHICK-FIL-A INVENTED THE CHICKEN SANDWICH.

In 1946, Samuel Truett Cathy and his brother Ben opened a small restaurant called the Dwarf Grill in Hapeville, Georgia, roughly 80 miles from where they were born in Eatonton. According to the company [PDF], Cathy was approached by the owners of the Goode Brothers Poultry company of Atlanta with a problem and a potential offer. That set of brothers, Jim and Hall Goode, had been asked to provide boneless, skinless chicken breasts for airline meals, but at the end of their process, the chicken did not meet airline requirements and could not be used. Cathy agreed to accept the shipment of chicken and began developing a way to make it work for his restaurant’s menu.

After trying various cooking methods, ingredients, and seasonings, he arrived at one (which included two pickle slices) that his customers liked and added it to the menu. The company says that the secret recipe has not changed over the past 50 years, and that it is locked away in a vault at Chick-fil-A headquarters.

2. THE COMPANY IS THE LARGEST BUYER OF U.S. PEANUT OIL.

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The chicken in Chick-fil-A sandwiches is fried in 100 percent refined peanut oil, which the company says is a part of the secret. The supply of peanuts comes from 1600 farms in states including Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. The oil reportedly does not add flavor to the chicken, and Chick-fil-A says that the refining process used by its suppliers removes the proteins that trigger reactions in those who suffer from peanut allergies, though they still suggest that customers with allergies consult their doctors first.

3. THE SANDWICH PRE-DATES THE NAME OF THE RESTAURANT.

After inventing the hit sandwich, Cathy needed to call it something. “He began to reflect on the product, made from what was widely considered to be the best part of the chicken—a boneless breast,” reads an official origin statement from the company [PDF]. Comparing his sandwich to a beef fillet (the “best cut of beef”), Cathy decided it could be called a chicken fillet, which became chick fillet, which became Chick-fil-A. The “A” in the name was capitalized to indicate that the food the restaurant served was of the best quality.

4. IT WAS A FAVORITE OF MALL RATS.

Chick-fil-A now has over 2000 locations in 43 states across the country, but customers used to have to visit shopping malls to get their chicken sandwich and waffle fries fix. The first in-mall restaurant opened in the suburbs of Atlanta in 1967 (not long after the birth of the mall food court). The shift to establishing more standalone locations came in 1994, and Chick-fil-A’s memorable billboard campaigns soon followed.

5. THE COW MASCOTS HAVE NAMES.

Because the company was in the business of selling sandwiches and not burgers, Chick-fil-A adopted spokes-cows as ambassadors of the “Eat Mor Chikin” movement. From 1995 until present day, real cows (and some fake ones) have starred in the restaurant's billboards, television commercials, print ads, and Facebook posts. For Cow Appreciation Day 2015, Chick-fil-A introduced the world to Cowboy Phil, the farmer and caretaker at the animal rental site where the four cows (named Freedom, Freckles, Kat, and Molly) live with other trained industry animals.

6. ALL LOCATIONS ARE CLOSED ON SUNDAYS.

Because of Cathy’s religious beliefs, all restaurant locations are closed for the Sabbath and holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. “My decision to close on Sunday came the first week it was in business,” Cathy said in a short documentary. “I was thoroughly exhausted and I had to make a decision. I needed that day, I want to preserve that day. Sunday is the Lord’s Day … we haven’t been open on Sunday in 50 years and we don’t intend to change that policy.”

However, individual Chick-fil-A stores will temporarily break protocol, as one Orlando-based restaurant did on June 12 to feed those who donated blood to help the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting that weekend.

7. EVERY TIME A NEW LOCATION OPENS, 100 PEOPLE EAT FREE FOR A YEAR.

The ever-expanding chain has a tradition that hardcore fans eagerly anticipate. The First 100 program celebrates the opening of each new Chick-fil-A location by giving the first 100 people in line free meals (one per week) for an entire year. Customers often camp out to be a part of that select few, and winners have successfully flipped their passes on eBay for cold hard cash. According to the Tampa Bay Times, there is even one superfan who has attended over 110 camp outs and has traveled up to 2900 miles for a single opening.

8. THERE IS A SECRET MENU.

Want a chicken sandwich with a little kick, or something flatter and more Mexican inspired? According to some sources, Chick-fil-A’s secret menu includes a buffalo chicken sandwich and a chicken quesadilla for those in the know. There is also a way to get a free soft serve instead of a toy when snacking from the kid’s menu, and some have asked for blueberry cheesecake slices blended into vanilla milkshakes.

9. FANS CAN GO ON OFFICE TOURS IN ATLANTA.

Chicken sandwich lovers in Atlanta have the opportunity to tour the Chick-fil-A headquarters in Georgia to learn more about the history and culture of the company. Called the Backstage Home Office Tour, the experience costs $10 per person for “The Original” and $20 per person for “The Deluxe,” which includes a look at Truett Cathy’s office and a shuttle ride to the innovation center and development kitchen.

10. IT SELLS PRETTY NICHE MERCHANDISE.

In addition to branded T-shirts and drinking glasses, Chick-fil-A fans can also show their love for the chain by purchasing umbrellas, cow-themed clocks, and cowbells from their online merch store. Past items that are currently not available online include Chick-fil-A visors, antenna toppers, golf towels, mouse pads, memo boards, backpacks, sunglasses, and rulers.

11. IT WAS THE FIRST QUICK SERVICE CHAIN TO GO ANTIBIOTIC FREE.

Chick-fil-A announced in 2014 that it would be making the major shift to using only antibiotic-free chicken at its restaurants by the year 2019. According to CNN, the antibiotics are used to stimulate growth and make the chickens less likely to become diseased, but the FDA and others have expressed concerns that the use of antibiotics for unnecessary purposes would lead to dangerous diseases becoming resistant.

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
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The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

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