When 62-year-old Susan McGowan arrived at the new Chick-fil-A on South Hill for the restaurant’s First 100 grand opening event Wednesday morning, she came prepared.
With a tent, blankets, umbrellas and layers of jackets and gloves, McGowan was ready to sit through a night of rain to win 52 free chicken sandwich meals for a whole year.
Her morning started early with a quick stop at Goodwill to purchase warm pants and a jacket before arriving at Chick-fil-A at 8 a.m. By that point, she snagged her No. 43 spot in line.
Then, with the help of another participant, she set up her tent and prepared for the long wait — but it was nothing new to McGowan, who participated in the First 100 opening event for the Chick-fil-A in Tacoma.
“I have an emotional attachment (to Chick-fil-A),” said McGowan, who lives in Yelm with her husband, Daniel.
Before moving to Washington state in 2002, McGowan lived in Arkansas and opened her own Chick-fil-A restaurant in Hot Springs in 1983. After operating it for several years, McGowan went through a divorce and left for Washington state, where she now works as a nurse at Good Samaritan in Puyallup.
“I was just going to live here for a year and then go to grad school — then I gave someone my number and here we are,” she said.
While Chick-fil-A has changed over the years, McGowan said, the First 100 remains an exciting event for fans of the restaurant.
“In the South, (First 100) was such a popular thing,” she said. “People would take a vacation and jump from place to place.”
That’s no longer as easy to do, now that Chick-fil-A changed the registration guidelines to include addresses of participants, but McGowan made the cut, even though she lives in Yelm.
The Puyallup location is the second Chick-fil-A to open in Pierce County and the fifth in Washington state. McGowan said if another one opens, she’ll try to be there for the opening event.
“Will I do the Federal Way one? You bet,” she said. “It’s a lovely opportunity to meet new people.”
While participants were drawn to the event for the free meals, some find that it’s been fun to meet new people in their community.
Ramon Lyn, 40, is a stay-at-home dad of two kids who said that he’s enjoyed talking with other First 100 participants. But his motivation are definitely those chicken sandwiches.
Lyn first tried Chick-fi-A in 1996 after he retired from the military. He moved to Puyallup from California two years ago.
“I’ve been going to (Chick-fil-A) for the better part of 20 years,” Lyn said. “I wanted the free meals for the year.”
Even though the line didn’t officially form until 6 a.m., Lyn arrived at Chick-fil-A at 5:15 a.m. to get the second spot. This is the first time he’s participated in an event like this.
As operator of the Puyallup location, 49-year-old Mike Lehman started his day off early, too, preparing for the opening of the restaurant. Whether it’s sun, rain or sleet, Lehman said the fans of Chick-fil-A are willing to participate in the event all over the country.
“It’s a normal part of our grand opening process,” he said.
Lehman, who served in the U.S. Navy for 27 years, traveled to Washington during his military career and enjoyed Puget Sound so much that he moved his family back to live in Puyallup after retiring.
“We’ve been embraced by the community,” Lehman said. “We’re thrilled to be a part of it.”
First 100 participants also packaged meals for Feeding Children Everywhere, a nonprofit organization that enlists the help of groups to assemble healthy meals for children in need. Lehman made a 10,000-meal goal, and said that all meals will be delivered to local food banks and charities for children and families.
Chick-fil-A officially opened to the public with a ribbon cutting Wednesday morning. The restaurant will employ 120 people and is located on 104 39th Ave SW on South Hill. For more information, visit cfapuyallup.com.