NEW YORK: Before Chick-fil-A debuts in New York City on Saturday morning, the fast-food chain has placed its franchise operator in the spotlight to build a relationship with the local community.
Oscar Fittipaldi, the operator in Manhattan, is acting as the "face of the brand," said Carrie Kurlander, the restaurant’s VP of PR and public affairs.
"We have an interesting business model at Chick-fil-A that we refer to as ‘local ownership of a meaningful brand,’" she said. "Every Chick-fil-A has a local owner-operator that is in business -- kind of like a franchisee – and we like to introduce that operator to the local community."
She added that Fittipaldi "will be keeping the trains running in that restaurant and having relationships with customers."
The company introduced Fittipaldi to customers in August with a blog post telling his story as an immigrant from Argentina – including pictures and a video of him introducing the restaurant to New Yorkers.
"He is originally from Argentina and always dreamed of a life in New York," said Kurlander. "When we were just in malls, before we had free-standing restaurants, often times the operator was known as the ‘mayor of the mall.’ So now he gets to be the de facto mayor of the Garment District [where the restaurant will be based]."
He has been on-the-ground in New York for months, particularly developing relationships within the Garment District. For instance, this week, Fittipaldi hosted the Garment District Business Alliance with a private dinner of chicken sandwiches in the yet-to-be-opened restaurant at 37th St. and 6th Ave.
"With any operator, they are there to be a member of the community and understand what the community’s needs are," said Kurlander. "He will be donating leftover food in the restaurant to a local food pantry."
On Thursday, the company held a media day at its new location, giving journalists the opportunity to interview Fittipaldi.
A cow holding an "Eat Mor Chikin" sign, an image that has become synonymous with the brand, has also documented its move to New York on Chick-fil-A’s blog this week. The "fearless cows act in self-interest, realizing that when people eat chicken, they don’t eat them," the blog explains.
Kurlander said she does not think Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s comments expressing his opposition to same-sex marriage in 2012 will keep New Yorkers away from the restaurant. The chain has 1,900 locations in 42 states and Washington, DC.
"What [Cathy] has said publicly since then is that he understands it is not appropriate to project his opinion onto a brand owned by customers," she said. "And at the heart of Chick-fil-A, we are a restaurant business for everybody. We are going to leave the conversations about other things to other people."