Culinary no-no #700

Culinary no-no began on Father’s Day 2007, a beautiful summer day, when I wrote about grilling brats. And eating brats. And topping those brats. I was inspired by my wife, Jennifer who, in my admittedly unscientific opinion, ruins brats by squirting ketchup on them. Other dining taboos quickly came to mind. The original idea was to take this concept only a few months, till the end of summer and then pull the plug. Then the unexpected happened. People started reading Culinary no-no. Lots of folks. So we keep doing the no-no.

Burger King Ch'King chicken sandwich arriving in June - Chicago Sun-Times

Back in the mid to late 1970’s there were no chicken sandwich wars. That’s because fast food chains didn’t have chicken sandwiches on their menus.

About that time I recall having my first experience with Chick–fil –A, inside the food court at the Southridge Mall.

No surprise I found the chain at a mall. Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy brilliantly decided since everybody was selling burgers, why not chicken on a bun. And there’s more.

When malls exploded in America Cathy saw a tremendous opportunity.

“Truett saw there was a ready-made market. All the salespeople and store employees that worked all day in the mall didn’t have anywhere to eat,” said Martha Lawrence, Truett’s executive assistant from 1997 until his death in 2014. “They had the space, he saw a need.” During the 1960’s the number of shopping malls in the United States grew from 4,500 in the beginning of the decade to 16,400. One in every three American retail dollars was spent in a shopping mall. And Chick-fil-As could be found in malls across America.

In 1986, Chick-fil-A opened its first free-standing restaurant in Atlanta, and now boasts more than 2,200 restaurants in 47 states.

One of the latest trends in the fast food industry has several chains attempting to out Chick-fil-A Chick-fil-A, including McDonald’s that can only improve on its scrawny below average sandwich offering.

Burger King has now entered the fray with an approach that focuses on politics as opposed to quality. Instead of advertising that it has the better chicken sandwich, Burger King announced on June 3 it will donate up to $250,000 of the proceeds from its new premium chicken sandwich, Ch’King, to The Human Rights Campaign (HRC). For every hand-breaded chicken sold, 40 cents will go to the cause.

The company also emphasized that the Ch’King is available on Sunday, a direct punch at Chick-fil-A which closes on Sunday to observe the Sabbath. Chick-fil-A has long been blasted for donating to anti-LGBTQ+ groups. CEO Dan Cathy has made statements critical of same-sex marriage.

“This is a community (LGBTQ) we love dearly and have proudly supported over the years, so we couldn’t miss an opportunity to take action and help shine a light on the important conversation happening,” a Burger King spokesperson said.

Consider what Jonathan Merritt wrote in the Atlantic in 2012. It rings true today:

Americans who patronize the chain’s 1,600 locations were left wondering what to do.

Should they swear off the legendary chicken sandwiches to support gay rights? Or could they eat one of the filets anyway, knowing their dollars would be but a drop in the bucket for a chain that has more than $4 billion in annual sales and donated a pittance to groups they may disagree with?

I’d argue the latter — and this has nothing to do with my views on gay marriage. It’s because Chick-fil-A is a laudable organization on balance, and because I refuse to contribute to the ineffective boycott culture that’s springing up across America.

First of all, Chick-fil-A is not a hate group. In a statement company leaders made their commitment to equal service clear. “The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”

As a native Atlantan, I’ve dined at the chicken chain more than I’d like to admit over more than two decades and even interacted with its leadership team. I’ve never witnessed any customer refused service or even treated differently. On the contrary, Chick-fil-A is known for offering world-class customer service to each person that walks through one of the restaurant’s doors.

Additionally, the organization gives millions of dollars each year to charitable causes — and not just to “pro-family” groups. It funds a large foster care program, several schools of a higher learning, and a children’s camp. It has provided thousands of scholarships for Chick-fil-A employees to attend college and grow past the service sector where they got their workplace start.

I’m flummoxed that so many consumers are so quick these days to call for boycotts of any company that deviates from their personal or political views. For one thing, boycotts rarely cause actual pocketbook – rather than PR — damage. Most consumers don’t care enough to drive an extra mile to get the same product from someone else.

But my bigger question is this: In a nation that’s as divided as ours is, do we really want our commercial lives and our political lives to be so wholly intermeshed? And is this really the kind of culture we want to create?

As Josh Ozersky argued on TIME, “businesses should be judged by their products and their practices, not by their politics.”

In reality Burger King can’t win. Chick-fil-A supporters are not going to be swayed. So if the goal is to hurt Chick-fil-A economically That ain’t happening.

And if Burger King is pushing politics, maybe it’s because their chicken sandwich isn’t the better choice after all.


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ICYMI, Culinary no-no #699

One thought on “Culinary no-no #700

  1. Pingback: Culinary no-no #701 | This Just In… From Franklin, WI

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