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Chicken coup: Chick-fil-A in Chicago Ridge draws a crowd

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Updated: October 28, 2013 7:09AM



Some came from a few blocks away, some from far-flung suburbs, some from St. Louis.

They arrived in the wee hours under the cover of darkness, set up tents in a freshly asphalted parking lot and settled in to wait for 24 hours — all to get 52 free meals.

It may sound crazy to some, but it’s just another day in the life of folks who crave Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches.

Chick-fil-A gives vouchers good for 52 free meals to the first 100 customers of its new restaurants. A new Chick-fil-A at 9600 S. Ridgeland Ave., at Chicago Ridge Mall, was scheduled to open at 6 a.m. Thursday.

To be considered as being among the first 100, one must camp out for 24 hours, spokeswoman Tiffany Simmons said. That’s why about 150 people were there by 6 a.m. Wednesday.

A random drawing determined the lucky 100, along with 10 alternates who were hoping some of the lucky 100 would head home early.

Wes Silvertone, 32, and his wife, Heather, 29, of Glenview, arrived at 5:50 a.m. Wednesday. They had been through this eight times before.

“It’s one year of free chicken. Their meals are really good. And the people are fantastic. We have a tight-knit community for one day. Quite a few of us know each other,” Wes said.

He and Heather took time off from work to be there. So did most of the people camped in the parking lot just south of the building.

Five friends drove five hours from St. Louis for the pilgrimage. Nathan Temple, 39, Matthew Smith, 33, Micah Temple, 24, Ava Benrubi, 27, and Sean Hamre, 21, played poker in one of their two tents to kill time. Smith brought along his 5-year-old son.

“They sort of dragged me here. I just wanted a day off work,” Nathan Temple said, joking. “I’ve done this before.”

Smith called it “a unique experience you can’t get anywhere else. Once you do it, you like it or hate it. We all like it, that’s why we do it over and over again.”

In many ways, the Chick-fil-A fans are like the Deadheads, those legendary fans of the Grateful Dead who followed the rock band on concert tours, memorably descending on Tinley Park several years ago. All that was missing Wednesday were the tie-dyed T-shirts and endless loop of Dead songs.

Cathy Gonzalez, 51, and daughter Marissa, 22, live a few blocks away in Oak Lawn. They sat on a blanket playing cards on a sun-kissed autumn morning. Cathy’s husband, Martin, was sent to get a tent for the gals to sleep in.

“We got here at 4 a.m. I thought it would be interesting,” Cathy Gonzalez said.

Marisa rolled her eyes and smiled when asked if Mom had gone crazy.

“Just a little,” Marissa said.

She and Cathy both received numbers lower than 100 in the random drawing, meaning they only had to stay on the premises until 6 a.m. Thursday to each get vouchers for 52 free meals of a chicken sandwich, waffle fries and soft drink.

“I love their sandwiches. They are fresh and delicious,” Cathy said.

Chick-fil-A feeds the faithful breakfast, lunch and dinner, makes sure they are hydrated, and — to answer the big question — lets them use the rest rooms.

A disc jockey was set to entertain the crowd Wednesday night.

The “First 100” promotion dates back to 2003, when Chick-fil-A officials realized customers were waiting in line at grand openings, Simmons said. A public relations bonanza was born.

“People bring flat-screen TVs. We’ve seen bachelorette parties,” Simmons said.

Bridgeview resident Rich Gaudie, 45, was laid off a month ago and said he “had nothing else to do” as he stretched out trying to nap in the sun.

“One of my ex-girlfriends called me up and said I could come out here and get some free chicken,” said Gaudie, who had No. 29 in the drawing.

His plan to pass the time?

”I’m going to sit and people-watch,” he said.



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