Chick-fil-A popularity causing traffic problems in CT towns and villages


For nearly eight years, Greg Dembowski has been keeping a close eye on the first Chick-fil-A to open in Connecticut.

“It’s a very successful business here in Brookfield,” said Dembowski, the city’s director of economic development.

But that’s an understatement, given that the grand opening in October 2014 saw dozens of people lining up to be part of the “First 100”, a promotion offering free food for a year to the first 100 customers to step through. the door. They arrived 24 hours before the official openingready to camp overnight in the parking lot with tents, televisions and video game systems.

Connecticut, to be among the first 100 diners and receive a free meal once a week for a year, Wednesday, October 8, 2014.”/>

Eight-year-old Valentina Errichiello of Brookfield camps with her family outside the Chick-fil-A in Brookfield, Connecticut, to be among the first 100 diners and receive a free meal once a week for a year, Wednesday, October 8, 2014.

Autumn Driscoll

Chick-fil-A is “go away temporarily” of the top 100 promotions as the company navigates COVID-19, but similar scenes played out before the pandemic during the openings of North Haven and West Hartford in 2016 and 2017.

Since the Brookfield restaurant opened, traffic problems have followed the success of Chick-fil-A in Connecticut.

In Brookfield, it was a pretty simple fix last year as officials considered how to keep traffic from getting bogged down in Chick-fil-A during mealtimes – build an extra lane for cars crossing the restaurant entrance on Federal Road, with the federal government picking up 80 percent of the tab.

A view of Chick-fil-A along Connecticut Avenue in Norwalk, Connecticut on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. The owner is offering to rebuild the drive-thru system following complaints about traffic jams around the fast-food restaurant.

A view of Chick-fil-A along Connecticut Avenue in Norwalk, Connecticut on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. The owner is offering to rebuild the drive-thru system following complaints about traffic jams around the fast-food restaurant.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

But some other cities determine that fans of that $5 chicken sandwich might not be worth the extra cost as drivers wait their turn to pull into drive-thru lanes.

In a 2019 study, fast food trade publication QSR labeled Chick-fil-A as having busiest drive-thru windows of any channel nationwide. Secret shoppers dispatched by a research firm counted at least six cars in drive-thru lanes at a third of the Chick-fil-A locations they observed. Of the 10 major chains in the study, none exceeded the 10% mark, with McDonald’s closest at 9%.

Six cars is one thing, but in Fairfield officials feared traffic would recede beyond the capacity of the drive-thru lanes to accommodate 36 vehicles. In November, they rejected the company’s offer to take over the former Joe’s American Bar & Grill on Post Road. The owner is now appealing this decision.

In making their decision, Fairfield officials said they considered Norwalk’s experience with the first Chick-fil-A in lower Fairfield County.

In Norwalk, a franchisee is taking action to ease traffic on Connecticut Avenue, which averages nearly 25,000 vehicles per day between two Interstate 95 exits where Chick-fil-A is located, according to estimates from a recent real estate advertisement.

The busy stretch of Connecticut Avenue, where the state first Wegmans supermarket is planned nearby, hubs like Costco, Home Depot, Lowe’s, ShopRite, Stop & Shop and Walmart have been around for years.

In 2017, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen—the first in lower Fairfield County—joined the neighborhood. Built on a relatively narrow plot, traffic driving Popeyes Connecticut Avenue clogged at the beginning.

Less than half a mile up the road, Chick-fil-A opened around the same time in 2017. When the Norwalk restaurant opened, franchisee Archer Bullock got clearance from the zoning department of the city to build a double set of drive-thru lanes.

But traffic got worse during the COVID-19 pandemic when the restaurant closed its indoor dining room, which seats 120 people, and driving and mobile orders became the only options for customers. The dining hall has recently reopened and the company has filed plans for move its drive-thru windows in another section of the building to permanently resolve the traffic problem.

Stamford's Aleza Laub takes a break from her tent camping to win 52 combined meal vouchers for the first 100 people at the new Chick-fil-A in Norwalk.  About two dozen camped out Wednesday, October 18, 2017 until the official opening of the new Chick-fil-A on Connecticut Ave.  at Norwalk Conn.

Stamford’s Aleza Laub takes a break from her tent camping to win 52 combined meal vouchers for the first 100 people at the new Chick-fil-A in Norwalk. About two dozen camped out Wednesday, October 18, 2017 until the official opening of the new Chick-fil-A on Connecticut Ave. at Norwalk Conn.

Alex von Kleydorff / Hearst Connecticut Media

Besides food and jobs, Norwalk has benefited on another front from Chick-fil-A — a hefty $4.4 million property assessment. The company reached a settlement in state court last year to reduce the city’s pre-assessment by $1 million.

While destination restaurants like Chick-fil-A provide these economic benefits to municipalities and can generate business spinoffs for others nearby, some communities have put an end to the prospect of vehicles stuck on the roads as drivers wait. to order food.

Four years ago, Stamford refused a Chick-fil-A proposed for the busy Bull’s Head intersection north of downtown.

A Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich.

A Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich.

Jacy Lewis / Reporter-Telegram

Chick-fil-A did not provide details on whether the company recommends specific property sizes and traffic profiles for restaurants, and whether it has made any changes as a result of the experience of Norwalk, denials at Fairfield and Stamford or others elsewhere.

In the past, the company has referred to its “Chick-fil-A Drive-Thru Innovation Team” that adjusts fake drive-thru lanes at its Atlanta headquarters in an effort to deliver fast, attentive and precise.

In a statement, the company touted the benefits its restaurants generate in their communities. Chick-fil-A has a dozen locations in Connecticut, including at the Danbury Fair mall food court and the Mohegan Sun complex.

“Chick-fil-A is a purpose-driven company that seeks to have a positive impact on our communities by strengthening the local neighborhoods we serve, with a focus on hunger and education,” the company statement reads. Chick-fil-A. “Our [operators] are embedded in their local communities and they decide where, when, to whom and how they give back outside of their restaurants…including by organizing fundraisers for local schools and providing food donations to soup kitchens, to shelters and non-profit organizations.

While local officials weigh up whether the traffic problems often associated with Chick-fil-A restaurants are worth it, for fans the lines and parking lots speak for themselves.

But an element of cultural phenomenon – for better or worse – has also surrounded the brand, putting it at the forefront of consumers’ minds.

The founder of Chick-fil-A was a devout Baptist, hence the restaurant’s infamous closing on Sundays. And the company has been criticized for its history of donate to anti-LGBTQ+ organizations. The headlines and boycotts surrounding the controversy go back about a decade.

But the consumer fervor for chicken continued, and other fast-food chains picked up and took notice, trying to capture their own share of the market.

McDonald’s has deployed a new range of crispy chicken options early 2021, and a few months later Burger King introduced hand breading Ch’king on its menu.

Popeyes, who released his own sandwich in the summer of 2019, shot to fame a spat on social networks with Chick-fil-A when it first started, then saw its supply disappear in just two weeks due to “extraordinary request”. When he returned a few months later, the hype led to long lines, abuse of Popeyes workers, verbal altercations and even physical violence between clients.

Right now, Chick-fil-A seems to be winning the chicken game, as he’s been named the best performing chicken chain in the United States in December by Merchant Centric, an analytics company serving the fast food industry. The fast food chain was also named first in the United States by the US Customer Satisfaction Index in June 2021.

Includes earlier reports by Richard Chumney and Katrina Koerting.

[email protected]; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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