Some people are literally salivating as the Chick-fil-A chain prepares to open its first fast-food restaurant in Santa Barbara on Thursday.
But others say they have no appetite for the company or its politics, which they contend support anti-gay and hate groups, and are calling for a boycott.
Both sides were busy Wednesday, with fans camped out in front of the restaurant at 3707 State St., and opponents holding a rally in front of City Hall.
The site was formerly a Burger King, and has been the topic of controversy in Santa Barbara since Chick-fil-A President/CEO Dan Cathy said he opposed same-sex marriage in an interview last summer.
Architectural Review Board members abstained from a vote on minor changes to the Santa Barbara project, some because of personal opinions about the company, and were later reprimanded and forced to go through ethics training.
None of that seemed to concern the dozens of Chick-fil-A regulars who showed up early Wednesday, and planned to remain overnight before Thursday’s grand opening. Many were there in hopes of scoring free meal coupons.
The fast-food chain has hosted these events for store openings for many years, and offers free-meal coupons to the first 100 people to show up.
Those camping out had to stay in the parking lot area from 6 a.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday, but were treated to meals from the restaurant and a DJ throughout the day, according to Barbara Klaus from Cypress.
She and her husband have attended more than 15 Chick-fil-A store openings over the years. They show up — even to openings hundreds of miles from home — not just for the 52 free-meal coupons, but for the fun, she said.
She and her husband said they love the food, but usually give away the coupons to their children and friends.
“It’s just enjoyable,” Klaus said. “We meet a lot of nice people, there’s a DJ that comes and we play games.”
Many groups of people were using the building’s power to run their laptops. The building itself is open all day for people to use the bathroom and sit on the patio area.
Near the drive-through area, a group of young local men were playing ukuleles outside their small tent.
They’re friends with the new store manager and decided to spend the day and night playing music and getting some free chicken. They said they were also invited to the restaurant’s premiere night on Tuesday.
“We love Jesus and chicken, so why not?” UCSB student Justin Huntsman said. “We love gay people, too. People are talking about the controversy that goes on, but frankly, we don’t give a damn.”
“Frankly,” his friend Ethan Davis chimed in, “it’s good chicken.”
However, the taste of the chicken was not on the minds of Chick-fil-A opponents who gathered downtown later in the day.
Representatives from the Pacific Pride Foundation, the Fund for Santa Barbara, Just Communities, UCSB’s resource center for sexual and gender diversity and Santa Barbara County Democratic Committee held a rally at City Hall Wednesday afternoon to protest the store’s opening.
The fast-food chain’s corporate policy mandates that the locally-owned franchise give half of its net profits to Chick-fil-A, Inc., where some funds go toward the company’s donations, they contend.
In the past, some of those donations have been given to anti-gay and hate groups, according to David Selberg, executive director of the Pacific Pride Foundation.
The groups have formed the Lose Your Appetite for Hate Coalition, and are asking community members to only support restaurants that have pledged not to donate money to anti-gay organizations.
Even though the new Chick-fil-A franchise is a local business, Santa Barbara money will be funneled to the larger corporation, and some of that money has been donated to hate groups in the past, said Lauren Gunther, Pacific Pride’s coordinator for the Santa Barbara Equality Project.
“Santa Barbara simply does not stand for the kind of donations Chick-fil-A has made,” she said.
There’s been no sign that the business plans to change its donating priorities, either, despite some media reports to the contrary, she said, sourcing an Equality Matters article.
Alan Goff, of Just Communities, asked residents to spend their money at local businesses that contribute to strengthening the community, not pulling it apart.
Tania Israel, president of the Fund for Santa Barbara board, said a growing number of local restaurants and community members are signing the pledge: “I pledge to not eat at Chick-fil-A because I do not want my money to support anti-gay organizations and certified hate groups.”
The coalition also sent a letter to Chick-fil-A president and CEO Dan Cathy asking him to sign a pledge to stop donating to anti-gay and hate groups, treat LGBT employees fairly, and treat every customer with respect.
The restaurant brings 70 new jobs to the area, and the camp-outs provide security, restrooms, a DJ to host dancing and games, and free food to those waiting for the opening, said Cindy Chapman of CP Communications. The chain is opening three other branches later this month in California.