Plucky Chick-fil-A groupies flock to Roanoke for free food

Posted Tuesday, Jul. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Chanting “Eat More Chicken!” and high-fiving staff, 100 people donned in white Chick-fil-A T-shirts and hats marched down a red carpet and into Roanoke’s newest restaurant on opening day to claim their prizes — free chicken for a year.

Besides 72 locals from Roanoke and surrounding cities, people came from all across Texas and as far away as South Carolina for the June 27 grand opening of the restaurant at 1300 N. U.S. 377, on the corner of Marshall Creek Road.

About 180 people tried for the chicken, many known as Chick-fil-A groupies who, in cult-like dedication, follow grand openings from city-to-city and state-to-state.

“I drove almost 12 hours,” said Andy Austin, an Alabama resident who has been to 36 Chick-fil-A grand openings.

“It’s my first opening in Texas. I’ve driven to Illinois, Oklahoma and Florida,” ge said.

Austin said it’s more than just free food that lures him to the celebrations.

“I just enjoy myself,” he said. “I meet new friends and see some of the same people over and over.”

The first 100 in line when the doors opened at 6 a.m. won a one-year supply of free Chick-fil-A meals — 52 coupons for a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, medium waffle potato fries and a medium drink — a total of almost $30,000 in free food for the winners.

The line officially formed 24 hours prior to the restaurant opening. The 100 winning spots were determined by a raffle with those selected required to stay overnight to secure their spot.

At that point, the parking lot turned into a paved campground with tents, air mattresses, sleeping bags and fold-out chairs.

For 10 years, Chick-fil-A has hosted parking lot parties at grand openings, providing security, entertainment and food to those who arrive more than 24 hours in advance.

Tiffany Fay, a Waco resident, arrived at 5:30 a.m. the day before the restaurant opened. She said the Roanoke visit is her second grand opening event, but she plans on going to more.

Waco resident Courtney Rogers came with Fay for her fourth opening.

“I check the website, if there are friends or family nearby, I think ‘Road trip!’”

A more seasoned veteran, Sharon Vorheier of San Antonio, has been to 55 openings.

“I go to openings in Texas and every time there is one in a surrounding state,” Vorheier said. “Besides chicken for a year, I come for the people ... Chick-fil-A is a great company, it’s Christian based.”

Dallas residents Linda and Brooks Gould came with their three children, ages 10, 9 and 7.

“This is our 16th time,” Linda Gould said. “The free chicken is never bad, but I come for the camaraderie.”

Gould also said she appreciates the company’s Christian values.

“The event is family friendly and very safe, there’s police presence,” she said after picking up her free meal cards. “We camp anyway, and (the kids) love it. They had swimming pools out here yesterday for us.”

Sandy Lamb, owner/operator of the new restaurant, said she learned that one man in the crowd was at his 120th grand opening.

Roanoke’s new Chick-fil-A restaurant brings 70 new jobs to the area.

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