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Chick-fil-A food fight adds local flavor

The crowd thgathered outside Chick-Fil-A Aurorfor restaurant's natiwide appretiatiday Wednesday August 1 2012 was not interested creating huge protest but

The crowd that gathered outside of the Chick-Fil-A in Aurora for the restaurant's nation wide appretiation day on Wednesday August 1, 2012 was not interested in creating a huge protest, but was comprised mainlt of people who simply wanted to show support for a company that shared thier values by getting a bite to eat. | Katherine Peters~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 3, 2012 1:16PM

I hate when politics gets in the way of a good chicken sandwich.

I’m no big meat eater, but the first time I sank my choppers into a Chick-fil-A sandwich a few years ago in Georgia, I was hooked. So when the company announced its first Chicago-area store would be built right in our very own backyard — by Westfield Fox Valley mall in Aurora — I was cacklin’ with delight.

Of course, now the chicken chain is embroiled in a national controversy, ever since its president Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press last month the Atlanta-based company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.” That set off a maelstrom of criticism from gay rights groups and others calling for boycotts and efforts to block the chain from opening new stores.

That, in turn, led Baptist minister and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to declare Wednesday as national “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” Which is why, always hungry for a good story, I found myself at the Route 59 Chick-fil-A around noon on Wednesday with a VERY long line of equally ravenous but patient folks.

“So, are you with us or against us?” asked 65-year-old Auroran David Finley, as he waited outside the fast food restaurant in a line that extended all the way to the street.

“Ahh, I love Chick-fil-A,” I replied, my mouth already starting to water just from the smell of those lightly battered chicken patties wafting through the air. “But I’m here to find out why others are standing in line.”

Turns out their reasons come down to a couple things. “We can’t just keep quiet ... this is about freedom of speech,” said 56-year-old Carla Enger, a teacher from Serena, who drove an hour to show her support at the Oswego Chick-fil-A, only to find out that restaurant won’t open for another three weeks. So she heard about the store by the mall and drove to Aurora.

For others, like Jennifer Singer, 24, and Maria Livacari, 28, it’s all about showing support for the popular chain’s stance on family values. Both young Naperville moms patronize the Chick-fil-A regularly for that reason — and didn’t seem the least bit concerned it was going to be a while before they were able to feed the four kids — two toddlers, two infants — they had in tow.

“Maybe it will last till nap time,” Singer said of the long line.

Like many, NIU grad Aaron Diestelkamp, 24, standing stoically with pregnant wife Sonya, sees the backlash against Chick-fil-A as an attack on both free speech and family values. And he was one of several who was upset with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s threats to use governmental powers to block a new restaurant from opening in Chicago.

Naperville resident Marc Cartwright, who is black, says he gets discouraged when people tie Cathy’s stance to discrimination. “I totally reject that comparison,” as do his two children, Alan, 17, who skipped a pool party to stand in line with his father, and sister Ariel, 20, a student home for the summer from Auburn University, who says she argued the same points with her gay, bisexual and transgender friends.

“I love them,” she said, “but I don’t agree with them.”

Many of the people standing in line were fans of the tasty chicken sandwiches. Finley had never tried a Chick-fil-A but declared he “showed up to vote with my stomach.” And at least one patron, Kevin Vanderwater from Plainfield, who had been waiting for over an hour to finally get his order, admitted “I don’t even like” the food here.

One couple, Phil and Shirley Richards of Oswego, had been at the restaurant for breakfast and, despite the fact it was their 53rd wedding anniversary, decided to volunteer for cleanup duties during the lunch hour, along with daughter Missy Hauser and 15-year-old granddaughter Lucy, also of Oswego.

Certainly Walter Hernandez appreciated the extra hands. The manager in training for Chick-fil-A was glad he’d already been through the grand opening at the Route 59 store a couple years ago. ”This is even crazier,” he said of the lines that, an hour later, seemed only to be growing, “But I love it. Time is flying by.”

Pointing to the food-filled semi trailer parked out front, he insisted the Aurora restaurant was more than ready to handle the crowd. And they will be just as prepared on Friday, he promised, when opponents of the company’s stance are planning “Kiss More Chiks” — encouraging people of the same sex to show up at restaurants and kiss each other.

I’ll be there as well. After standing in line for most of my lunch hour, I was no closer to a nice chicken sandwich.

But at least the controversy is getting fed.

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