(Photo: Orange County Register/Paul Bersebach)
Chick-fil-A officials at the grand opening of a restaurant in Laguna Hills, Calif., decided to shift gears for the national chain's traditional "First 100" food-for-a-year contest and hold the event the night before it was scheduled in order to avoid any confrontations during a protest by a gay youth group Thursday morning.
The festivities for the two days of opening activities went as planned minus the overnight camping, Chick-fil-A corporate spokesperson Cindy Chapman told The Christian Post after the restaurant opened. The 100 awards of one free Chick-fil-A meal every week for a year were given during a 10:30 p.m. ice cream party at the new location in Orange County Wednesday.
On Thursday morning, about 30 protesters holding signs lined the sidewalk by the restaurant. Youth Empowered to Act, a group with The Center Orange County, timed its protest as other gay activists around the country are challenging Chick-fil-A and its president Dan Cathy, who voiced his support for biblical marriage in several recent interviews.
"We had 250 people who would have not slept for 24 hours who are passionate on one side perhaps of the issue and then we had any number of people that were passionate on the other side of the issue," Chapman said.
"I don't think that either side wanted something to happen just because of the heat of the moment. People have been respectful and stayed on the sidewalk and have been given the opportunity to exercise their right to free speech as we exercise our right to open a business."
Chapman explained that the company's grand openings are normally "a crazy time anyways," but that the opening in Laguna Hills went well with the slight variance.
"Everything went off yesterday as usual and we had all the things that we normally have going on for a grand opening," she said. "The only piece that was missing, that nobody seemed to miss too much, was the sleeping in the parking lot for eight hours."
The gay activist group's executive director, Kevin O'Grady, said the restaurant opening would be "the perfect time and place to bring attention to the discriminatory policies and beliefs of Chick-fil-A," The Orange County Register reported.
Youth program director Laura Kanter, who promoted the protest through social media sites Twitter and Facebook, said the group's aim was to let consumers know "where the charitable arm of this corporation sends its money."
"We want to alert consumers that if they're spending their money at Chick-fil-A, some of that money can be spent against LGBT people and their families," Kanter said, according to the Register.
Chick-fil-A was aware of the planned protest that Chapman said was thought first to start at 6 a.m. on Thursday. She said that time is usually when the company would be awarding prizes at the grand openings.
"We were told yesterday that the time had changed to 5 a.m. and that meant there was going to be a good hour to hour-and-a-half overlap between the time the protesters arrived and our First 100 (contest) people that were camping out," Chapman said. "Literally they would be right next to each other and so to protect the right of the protesters to protest and also to protect the quality of the event that we were hosting, we were advised by local authorities that it just made sense to go ahead and move [the contest giveaway to] earlier.
"People who knew already that they were going to win were able to receive their prizes. They were very happy that they would be getting an extra eight hours of sleep."
By mid-morning, the protesters had fluctuated between 20 to 40 people and the situation was calm, Chapman said.
On the national scene, Fox radio and TV host Mike Huckabee is calling on people to participate in Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day on Aug. 1 in a show of support for the traditional family values of the company and its owner.