Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Truett Cathy — an ‘original’ chicken sandwich pioneer

By Elizabeth Bobenhausen Poultry Times staff ebobenhausen@poultrytimes.com

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GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Truett Cathy was born March 14, 1921, in the small town of Eatonton Ga. He was born to Lilla James Cathy and his father Joseph Benjamin Cathy. In his teenage years, he attended Midtown High School, formerly known as Boys High School and Henry W. Grady High School. After high school, Cathy joined the United States Army and fought in the second world war.

Cathy and his wife, Jeanette, were Christians. New Georgia Encyclopedia states that they taught a Sunday school class for teenage boys for more than 50 years. Cathy made it a rule that his restaurants had to be closed on Sundays so employees could spend time with family or observe Sunday worship services. Cathy passed Sept. 8, 2014.

According to GeorgiaHistory.com, Cathy and his brother Ben opened their first establishment of what would become the Chick-fil-A franchise called the Dwarf Grill in Hapeville, Ga. It was named the Dwarf House. The grill was located between the Atlanta airport and the Ford Motor Co. assembly plant. The diner was open 24 hours which benefited their clientele of airport workers and plant workers. His brother passed away in a horrible plane crash; however, this did not stop Cathy and Jeanette from operating the Dwarf House.

Business for Cathy was booming, and he wanted to create a boneless chicken sandwich. Inspired by his mother, he cooked the chicken in a pressure cooker. After it was cooked, he put two pickles on the side of each piece of bread. The sandwich was a victory. The original chicken sandwich was introduced at the Dwarf House and became an immediate hit.

· The Chick-fil-A name

The original chicken sandwich became even more popular than hamburgers. Cathy knew he had to get the chicken sandwich patented because he knew he had a winner. In 1963, he met with a patent attorney. The lawyer told him to choose a special name for the beloved chicken sandwich. Cathy always used Grade A chicken for the sandwiches, and fillet being a top cut of beef. And the sandwich became the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich.

In November 1967, the first Chick-fil-A restaurant was launched in Greenbriar shopping mall, located in Atlanta, Ga. The concept of having any type of restaurant in a mall during this time was almost unknown. Cathy had to use much persuasion to get the mall owners on board with this new idea. The owners of the mall were concerned about accidents with the smoke or trash that is strung about. Cathy reassured them that nothing of that nature would happen. He hired Doris Williams, who operated a school cafeteria. Williams was to manage the restaurant and she became the inaugural Chick-fil-A franchisee operative.

Due to the decrease in mall development in the 1980s, Cathy began establishing stand-alone Chick-fil-A restaurants. The first stand-alone restaurant premiered in Atlanta in 1986. In 1993, the company opened its first drive-thru location in Greenville, S.C.

As of 2024, there are more than 3,000 Chick-fil-A restaurants in 48 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Elizabeth Bobenhausen
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