Full cir­cle: Lo­cal Chick-fil-A owner comes home

Fran­chise on the look­out for good tal­ent

The Calvert Recorder - - Business - By TA­MARA WARD tward@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @CalRecTAMARA

The long wait for waf­fle fries and Poly­ne­sian sauce in Calvert County is al­most over. The new Chick-fil-A in Prince Fred­er­ick will be op­er­a­tional be­fore the hol­i­day sea­son.

“We are just ex­cited about bring­ing Chick-fil-A for the first time to Calvert,” said fran­chisee Todd Smith.

But be­fore the chicken-only restau­rant can open, the new owner said he must first fill some po­si­tions.

“Off the bat we’re go­ing to be hir­ing be­tween 85 and 100 — that’s our goal by open­ing,” Smith said, not­ing he has avail­abil­ity for all po­si­tions full and part time, lead­er­ship and non-man­age­ment.

Smith said he will al­ways be on the look­out for good tal­ent, but prom­ises not to poach from other stores. Be­tween Sept. 28 and by Oct. 4, he said he has com­pleted up­wards of 50 in­ter­views for po­ten­tial “team mem­bers,” but made no of­fers as of yet. The ap­pli­ca­tion process is done to­tally on­line at CFAPrinceFred­er­ick.com.

Smith said em­ploy­ees are called team mem­bers be­cause Chick-fil-A has a team at­mos­phere and that they are not just an em­ployee or a num­ber.

“Since I do not have a staff, I will be the only one in­ter­view­ing peo­ple. For the next two weeks it will be a mat­ter of just go­ing through ap­pli­ca­tions, go­ing through in­ter­views, then mak­ing de­ci­sions,” Smith said.

It is not lost on Smith that he shares the same name as rap­per and ac­tor LL Cool J.

“Ev­ery­body knows who he his. He was named af­ter me,” chuck­led the 42-year-old restau­ran­teur who is eight years younger than the famed Todd Smith.

The lesser known Smith be­gan his ca­reer with Chick-fil-A in 2009 manag­ing a restau­rant in Charles­ton, S.C., for two and a half years be­fore head­ing to the cor­po­rate of­fice help­ing with grand open­ings and stores that did not have own­ers, nav­i­gat­ing through the com­pany’s in­terim man­ager pro­gram.

Smith was than granted an ex­ist­ing store in a mall in Hurst, Texas, just out­side of Fort Worth where he worked for five years, and was there un­til Au­gust of this year. He had to be out of the restau­rant in or­der to sign a con­tract for the Prince Fred­er­ick lo­ca­tion.

“I want to come back home,” said Smith, who is orig­i­nally from Bowie. His wife Mary is from Anne Arun­del County and they have fam­ily in Calvert. “We knew peo­ple in Calvert County wanted Chick-fil-A bad for a long time. So, we’ve been kind of hav­ing our eye on this one for a cou­ple of years.”

Smith said his fa­ther’s fam­ily has been liv­ing in south­ern Prince Ge­orge’s County since the 1700s and that his great­great-grand­mother’s house in Croom is on the Na­tional His­toric Reg­is­ter.

Smith said he and his wife, who also works in the store as the mar­ket­ing and cater­ing di­rec­tor, did not want to open a fran­chise in an area where they did not want to live nor want their 5-year-old son to at­tend school, as they plan to be in­volved in the lo­cal cham­ber of com­merce and en­grossed in the com­mu­nity.

Smith ad­mit­ted over re­cent years he had been pe­ri­od­i­cally check­ing out the Face­book page ti­tled “Calvert County needs a Chick-fil-A.”

“Thanks for vis­it­ing this page! If any­one has con­nec­tions to some­one who can start a Chick- fil-A in Calvert County, please try to start one!!!” reads the page’s first post Feb. 4, 2011. It even­tu­ally gar­nered 150 fol­low­ers.

Smith said they had been hold­ing out for spe­cific lo­ca­tions and this one came on tar­get with the 2018 plan.

“We jumped on it,” Smith said, later not­ing they wanted to be in a place that is “com­mu­nity cen­tric,” not in a “mega met­ro­pol­i­tan area.”

While the cor­po­rate of­fice has fre­quently in­formed The Calvert Recorder, as re­cent as Fe­bru­ary, that it hopes to ex­pand in Prince Fred­er­ick but does not have any new lo­ca­tions to con­firm, Smith said he has known for al­most a year that he was cho­sen over oth­ers to re­ceive Calvert’s first store. He does not know how many oth­ers he went up against, but he knows it was com­pet­i­tive.

Smith ar­rived in Calvert in mid-Septem­ber, es­tab­lish­ing res­i­dence in Ch­e­sa­peake Beach, and has been work­ing in a trailer ad­ja­cent to the restau­rant, which is still un­der con­struc­tion and owned by the cor­po­ra­tion.

“Chick-fil-A is re­spon­si­ble for com­plet­ing the build. They will turn the restau­rant over to me [on] a turnover date when it ac­tu­ally be­comes of­fi­cial as a fran­chise lo­ca­tion,” Smith said, of the new con­cept store de­signed for small lots where both the kitchen and din­ning area run the length of the restau­rant.

At­lanta-based Fron­tier Con­struc­tion is build­ing the restau­rant, but has em­ployed la­bor from South­ern Mary­land.

“There’s prob­a­bly 50 guys here at all times,” Fron­tier Con­struc­tion Su­per­in­ten­dent Wil­liam Vir­gil said. “Ev­ery­one here is lo­cal.”

To help Smith, the cor­po­rate of­fice sent David Her­sh­berger, a Chick-fil-A grand open­ing su­per­vi­sor, one of three to come be­fore and stay through a week or two af­ter the eatery’s open­ing.

“They will sup­port us with get­ting the train­ers in for the grand open­ing, they help set up the store and en­sure that ven­dors are set up. They will also make sure the equip­ment in the restau­rant is func­tion­ing prop­erly,” Smith said.

Her­sh­berger spent the day re­cently call­ing ven­dors in prepa­ra­tion for open­ing, but stressed to the Recorder that em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties at the store were still avail­able.

Smith is in tune to what’s go­ing on in the county, with the push for growth against the de­sire to keep the county’s com­mu­nity feel. He also knows traf­fic is a con­cern.

Smith is sym­pa­thetic to the con­cerns of ev­ery­one and said while it is nice be­ing near Wash­ing­ton, “it’s also nice to be a lit­tle bit smaller and a lit­tle more quiet out­side of the Belt­way, not hav­ing as much traf­fic and sit­ting in the traf­fic.”

The week lead­ing up to the open­ing there will be ac­tiv­i­ties, to in­clude a con­test to re­ceive free Chick-fil-A food for a year, a DJ and other events. Only those liv­ing within a cer­tain ra­dius around the store will be el­i­gi­ble for the con­test.

Smith does not have an ex­act date for the open­ing, as cor­po­rate Chick-fil-A de­ter­mines the date, as dic­tated by the con­struc­tion time­line.

Less than 30 days ago, he erected his own Face­book page, “Chick-fil-A Prince Fred­er­ick,” that de­tails the store’s progress, op­por­tu­ni­ties for em­ploy­ment, con­struc­tion pic­tures and up­com­ing events. The page al­ready has more than 200 fol­low­ers. Smith plans to an­nounce the open­ing date there.

“Progress be­ing made on our new restau­rant. Tile, in­te­rior walls, brick, and land­scap­ing go­ing in re­cently. We can’t wait to get open and start serv­ing our com­mu­nity,” an Oct. 7 post reads, demon­strat­ing Smith’s en­thu­si­asm for his new store.

And while he is open to open­ing an­other fran­chise down the road, for now he is con­tent at his new lo­cale in his new county, not­ing what makes Chick­fil-A dif­fer­ent from other fast food chains is “lo­cal own­er­ship — we’re all liv­ing in the com­mu­nity we serve.”

STAFF PHOTO BY TA­MARA WARD

Fran­chise owner Todd Smith at Calvert County’s first Chick-fil-A set to open be­fore the hol­i­days.

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