Sitting by her tent in a parking lot near the entrance to Tacoma Mall at the intersection of South 38th and Steele streets, and with a copy of “Confessions of Saint Augustine” on her lap, Stacie Hooks talked Wednesday afternoon about chicken.
“When we go back to Texas, we make sure somebody brings it back,” she said. “To have it here, I definitely want it for a year.”
And that’s what she’ll get come dawn on Thursday when the doors open to a hundred fans who have each braved the night to become one of the “First 100,” a moniker given to chicken fans who spend the night waiting.
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She’ll get a Chick-fil-A sandwich weekly for one year, as will every one of the 99 remaining adults who waited through the night. (By midafternoon Wednesday, several spaces remained unfilled.)
Meanwhile, sisters Valerie McPherson of Puyallup and Barbara Godsey of Port Orchard played Uno.
“To get Chick-fil-A for a year, you can’t beat that,” said McPherson.
“I’ve loved Chick-fil-A forever,” said Jeff Mburu, a native of Kenya and a student at Washington State University. He too awaited Thursday’s dawn. To celebrate and commemorate, he wore a Chick-fil-A logo necktie.
“I grew up in Alabama,” he said. An uncle worked with a Chick-fil-A franchise in Florida and would offer Mburu company gift cards.
His favorite: the nugget tray.
There were games in the parking lot and music played over loudspeakers. Guests were told they could expect later to see the performers dressed as cows who would do the Chicken Dance.
Kitchen staff busied themselves Wednesday preparing snacks both for the waiting fans and for media representatives.
When it opens Thursday (April 16), the Tacoma store will become the 1,915th outlet in the Chick-fil-A coop. One other store, in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, was scheduled to open Thursday, and by the end of the year, a spokesman said, the country would see a total of 88 new stores.
People from Puyallup with a passion for poultry can expect a Chick-fil-A of their own in 2016, and so can folks in Covington. Oregonians will see two stores in 2016.
In the kitchen Wednesday, workers tore lettuce and chopped chicken parts — although they were separated for safety, with the raw-meat workers dressed in yellow gloves and aprons.
A spokesman explained the Henny Penny poultry pressure cooker, and then the Blodgett convection oven where the chocolate chip cookies are baked. Nearby was the lemon squeezer for the lemonade, a product that the spokesman said has made Chick-fil-A the country’s largest consumer of California Sunkist lemons.
The ingredients of the coating for the chopped chicken parts is a closely held secret — a secret kept even from Lynnae Schneller, who was selected to operate the franchise in a competition that drew 1,800 applicants.
The potatoes in the hash browns and waffle fries come from Washington, she said, as do apples. The buns for the chicken sandwiches are baked in Seattle by Franz.
Schneller recognizes that controversy recently swirled when Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy proclaimed his disagreement over gay marriage.
Schneller cautioned that the controversy had little to do with a chicken sandwich.
“When people come to the restaurant, they’ll see the face of Chick-fil-A. They’ll experience the service and the food,” she said.
“We’re ready to serve everyone in the community,” she said. “I’m just happy people will come in and experience it for themselves.”
And on a day when picketers elsewhere demonstrated in favor of a living wage and against their fast-food employers, Schneller said all of her 97 employees are paid above the minimum wage.
Back in the parking lot, Stacie Hooks talked about new friends, fresh chicken and what it’s like to wait for 52 free weekly chicken sandwiches.
“It’s so great,” she said. “I’m in the sunshine, reading books, eating free food, looking at the mountain. What more do you need in life?”