Chick-fil-A expansion into Toronto prompts backlash on social media

By Greg Furgala

The Atlanta-based quick service chain Chick-fil-A announced yesterday that it will be opening its second Canadian franchise in Toronto in 2019, following famed American chains like Five Guys, Chipotle and, albeit briefly, last year’s six-hour Shake Shack pop-up that led to an hours-long lineup, with one Shake-fan even offering $60 for a secondhand burger and fries. The United States’ seventh-largest quick service chain intends to follow up with 15 new restaurants in five years in the Greater Toronto Area — if, that is, the local outcry against it doesn’t derail the rollout.

The reaction to Chick-fil-A’s announcement doesn’t come from a deep-seated distrust of fried chicken (Popeye’s, also American, is opening up all over the city), but from the company’s Christian conservatism — its corporate purpose starts with “to glorify god” — and opposition to gay marriage. In 2012, Forbes reported that, through the WinShape Foundation, one of Chick-fil-A’s charitable arms, the company donated approximately $5 million to anti-gay marriage groups between 2003 and 2012, including the now-defunct Exodus International, which practiced “gay-conversion therapy,” an experience likened to torture. A recent New Yorker article stated that Chick-fil-A “has since reaffirmed its intention to “‘treat every person with honor, dignity and respect,'” but has nevertheless “quietly continued to donate to anti-L.G.B.T. groups.”

Despite the the bad press, the Huffington Post reported that Chick-fil-A’s sales grew by 12 per cent amid the controversy, and even inspired the former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee to declare an unofficial “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” leading to record sales day for the chain. Since 2012, Chick-fil-A has added 700 restaurants.

Chick-fil-A’s success hasn’t muted opposition in Toronto, though. As of this writing, a petition calling on it to abandon its expansion into Canada has collected more than 46,000 signatures, while the fallout continues on social media, with some calling for a boycott.

Chick-fil-A hasn’t directly addressed the uproar. When asked about the 2012 controversy by the Globe and Mail, Chick-fil-A president and COO Tim Tassopoulos said the company has “made the commitment, and always has, to serve everyone,” and that the chain has had a “high receptivity” in other urban markets, like Chicago and New York.

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