Odds are against it happening peaceably, but Chick-fil-A is doubling down on the plan it laid out in 2014 to put a chicken sandwich in the hands of every New Yorker. The city’s first location only arrived in midtown half a year ago, but Chick-fil-A has stayed busy since, erecting a second outpost a mere eight blocks away and plotting an outer-borough invasion, which is expected to begin in Queens. In fact, all told over the next year, it plans to open one dozen additional NYC locations, which will get it close to the number of Panera Breads in the city.
What explains this wild success is that, as controversial as Chick-fil-A’s politics may be, the corporate office runs a very tight ship and has done nothing but exceed market expectations. Seemingly out of nowhere in 2014 it overtook KFC as America’s biggest chicken chain. It placed a much more lackluster 19th on that year’s list of largest fast-food companies, but in the two years since, it’s climbed to No. 8 overall, and is now set to become the country’s fourth-largest chain by 2020 in terms of revenue, according to analysts who also call it one of the “biggest” and “least appreciated” threats to McDonald’s. (In point of fact: Consider the glut of chicken items its rivals now offer, from Burger King’s goofy Chicken Fries to Shake Shack’s very serviceable Chick’n Shack.)
Furthermore, Chick-fil-A’s tearing it up at a time when competitors are foundering: It averaged $3.2 million in per-store sales last year, which was 25 percent higher than McDonald’s, more than double what Wendy’s or Burger King pulled in, and roughly seven times better than Subway, which is having an especially awful year. To ready the non–Bible Belt sector of the country for its arrival, the company did a very public about-face, saying it regretted mixing religion and poultry, and promising to welcome anybody who tries to buy food. But the New York Post points out the chain’s still proudly discriminating when it comes to franchisees: Only 0.7 percent of last year’s 20,000 applicants got invited to join the team, which the paper notes means “it’s easier to get into Harvard than to become a Chick-fil-A franchisee.” Just something to keep in mind the next time a franchise owner runs around giddily snapping pics of customers dressed up for the chain’s annual Cow Appreciation Day.