HELLO GE­OR­GIA

The best thing to hap­pen to chicken

The Covington News - - School Beat -

“Is this the Twi­light Zone?” was my first thought as I stood with an gaze at the front of the cot­tage; it was a di­men­sion I’d never en­tered be­fore: A minia­ture town, com­plete with sev­eral trains trav­el­ing around a wind­ing rail­road, weav­ing in and out by churches, houses, farms and forests. Tiny cars, trucks, even wag­ons pulled by horses, sprin­kled the im­pos­ing scene.

Inside the small white church there were peo­ple seated in their pews; an or­gan was play­ing a pious hymn.

Then the own­ers of this glo­ri­ous land­scape ap­peared and in­vited us to come inside; they greeted us hos­pitably. What we had seen, they said, was an ex­am­ple of “gar­den­ing rail­road­ing,” some­thing that orig­i­nated in Europe, and has be­come pop­u­lar in the United States.

This rail­road took nine years to build. It was one of the many un­usual things Rachael, my wife, and I saw in Louisville, Ky., on our re­cent visit.

Some­thing that caught my eye was the rail­road sta­tion; a haunt­ing replica of the one I’d seen back in Hapeville. It was that mys­te­ri­ous “some­thing” that was nudg­ing me to re­call a bit of his­tory that took root in 1946 near that sta­tion a few blocks away and across the rail­road tracks.

This is how the story of S. Truett Cathy.

World War II was over; a sol­dier re­turned home to sift out mem­o­ries and im­ple­ment new vi­sions. For weeks, even months, he’d been think­ing about it all: home, a job, a fu­ture in the land of lib­erty. He had an idea, and the re­al­ity he would dis­cover was sweeter than his fond­est dream.

De­tails are not im­por­tant, but the con­cept which lodged in his mind was vivid enough to mo­ti­vate him; it re­quired de­ci­sive ac­tion.

Truett Cathy was what you might call a born sales­man, a man with the gift of per­sua­sion, some­thing he’d used from the time he was eight years old, liv­ing in West End dur­ing the days of the Great De­pres­sion. He’d buy a six-pack of cokes for a quar­ter and sell them for 5 cents each. In his spare time, he’d sell news­pa­pers.

He talked to his brother Ben Cathy about be­ing a part­ner in a new ven­ture?

Cathy’s per­sua­sion suc­ceeded, as he ex­pected. Ben came along and with him, loads of en­ergy. Lit­tle did they imag­ine in their wildest dreams that one day they would make one of the most spec­tac­u­lar in­va­sions of the highly com­pet­i­tive fast­food busi­ness and be run­ning one of the largest and most suc­cess­ful restau­rant chains in Amer­ica.

Truett sold his car, and the brothers pooled their re­sources, bor­rowed a few thou­sand dol­lars, and with less than $11,000 they opened a restau­rant in a small house near the rail­road tracks, so small, Truett called it the Dwarf Grill.

Day by day, work­ing long hours, he smiled and greeted neigh­bor­hood chil­dren, fam­i­lies and work­ers from the ford As­sem­bly plant across the tracks. The peo­pled streets, the pass­ing trains and cus­tomers com­ing in and out seemed to Cathy the ar­chi­tec­ture of dreams. He re­called the past.

Af­ter his fam­ily moved to At­lanta from Ea­ton­ton, his mother ran a board­ing house. Truett re­mem­bered the hard times when mak­ing a liv­ing wasn’t a piece of cake. His mother worked like a slave. Each day con­tained long, com­fort­less hours, cook­ing food and serv­ing a house full of board­ers. Truett had to help, and there he learned the value of hard work. Time passed. Then tragedy struck. In 1949, his brother, Ben, and an­other brother, Ho­race, were killed in a plane crash. Bro­ken hearted, but un­daunted, Cathy kept the vi­sion, work­ing six days a week, nearly 24 hours a day. Busi­ness flour­ished, so he opened a sec­ond Dwarf House in For­est Park. For­tune seemed to be shin­ning on him.

Again trou­ble called. A phone call in the mid­dle of the night awak­ened him with the news that his restau­rant in For­est Park was on fire.

Be­fore he could reach the scene, the roof was cav­ing in. There wasn’t much left.

Once more, his courage was tested. He had to go deeply in debt to re­build. Re­build he did. Mis­for­tune had made him stronger.

His ob­ses­sion with find­ing bet­ter ways to cook chicken led him to an amaz­ing dis­cov­ery — a break­through cre­ation known as a bone­less breast of chicken served on a but­tered bun. It be­came a sen­sa­tion.

Feel­ing a new wave of in­tu­ition, he be­came ad­ven­tur­ous, and opened a pro­to­type Chick­fil-A at Green­briar Mall in At­lanta. It wasn’t long be­fore Cathy had 333 units in 31 states, not fran­chises, but joint ven­tures with lo­cal in­vestors as op­er­a­tors.

Pre­sid­ing at the $7.8 mil­lion cor­po­rate Head­quar­ters in South Ful­ton County near I-85, Cathy runs his en­ter­prise like an army gen­eral.

Not long ago, I vis­ited his head­quar­ters, and I was treated like a celebrity. Cathy gave me a signed copy of his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. As I left by way of the charm­ing spi­ral stair­case which adorns the open atrium, I sensed his warm spirit of gen­uine love and friend­ship.

Cathy prac­tices benev­o­lence in many ways. He spon­sors col­lege schol­ar­ships for em­ploy­ees and has given mil­lions to churches and col­leges.

Chick-fil-A was the first cor­po­rate spon­sor of the Gospel Mu­sic As­so­ci­a­tion’s Mu­sic Week and Dove Awards and of­ten spon­sors gospel-singing con­certs.

The fast-food cham­pion teaches a Sun­day School class at Jones­boro First Bap­tist Church. He had made an un­usual dis­tinc­tion for his restau­rants: He de­mands that they all be closed on Sun­day, The Lord’s Day.

At Berry Col­lege in Rome, Cathy es­tab­lished the Win­Shape Cen­tre to help young peo­ple de­velop lead­er­ship. He de­scribes the goal in th­ese words: “Shap­ing in­di­vid­u­als to be win­ners.”

If suc­cess is his ma­jor goal, he has at­tained it. No Chick­fil-A restau­rant has ever been closed. None ever had to.

Now the world’s fourth largest chicken chain, with 845 units in 35 states, Chick-filA has found its way into the hearts of mil­lions.

In his book, “It’s Eas­ier to Suc­ceed than to Fail,” Cathy said, “Ideas come from God. They are pleas­ant and ex­cit­ing, and won’t keep. They have to be acted upon.”

Some call it luck from the start; Cathy would call it prov­i­dence. His suc­cess is a trib­ute to the tri­umph of God-di­rected ideas and ideals.

Clifford Brew­ton

Colum­nist

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