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Doing it right, one sandwich at a time

Dan Cathy sleeps with his customers.


On the nights before the grand opening of a new Chick-fil-A restaurant, the company's president will camp out with the chicken faithful, dozing in a sleeping bag amid the hoi polloi.

"I realized I didn't need to be in a warm bed with a warm shower while they were out there in the parking lot," he said during his featured speech at the annual Thomson-McDuffie Chamber of Commerce banquet last week.

But his dedication to the chain of chicken restaurants goes beyond the paying customers. He's just as committed to the company's employees, from the fry cooks to the franchisees.

Dan Cathy's voice - and part of the creed Chick-fil-A is so successfully built around - is one of increasing rarity in the corporate world.

It all started with Truett Cathy, the 85-year-old patriarch of the company. Growing up, Truett Cathy spent Sunday afternoons washing dishes in the boarding house his mother owned. Amid the suds, the young man promised himself he would not ever require an employee to do anything he wouldn't do. Washing dishes - and, ultimately, working at all - on a Sunday is just one of those things.

A few years ago, Truett Cathy's children - including Dan Cathy - gathered to set the future path of their company. They set forth with three guidelines:

- They would never sell the company.

- They would never, ever open on Sunday.

- They would make each decision in the best interest of the people who work for Chick-fil-A.

Three simple resolutions that speak volumes about the company.

It's a reflection of their strong Christian values - family members still teach Sunday School week in, week out. They keep the Lord in the forefront of their business. Without Him, nothing is possible. With Him, a small chicken sandwich restaurant became a food phenomenon.

They've done it by putting people and service ahead of profits. And, boy, have the profits caught up.

It's a blessing not lost on Dan Cathy - a man whose name tag is no different from any other employee, even down to the 35 years of service insignia.

He keeps a small, tattered Bible in his pocket. He cites scripture as rules for business. And he sees his restaurants as a six-day-a-week pulpit that can reach thousands and thousands of parishioners one nugget or waffle fry at a time.

But he also sees himself as a servant. He showed it at the chamber banquet as he and several of the Chick-fil-A representatives in attendance escorted ladies and children to their tables, carrying their plates and setting napkins in their laps. They eschewed their places at the front of the line as honored guests, just to make sure someone else was more comfortable.

One small gesture.

One extra mile.

One more lesson.

We may not all be doing the Lord's work, but each of us follows His lessons: We should focus more on those around us, and less on ourselves.

And we shouldn't forget His messengers.

Even if they are just peddling chicken.

Web posted on Thursday, March 01, 2007

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