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Chick-Fil-A Founder Credited His Success To Christian Principles

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Christianity, chicken sandwiches and good customer service - that was the winning combination for S. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A. He grew up in poverty, and he became a billionaire. He died this morning at the age of 93. From member station WABE, John Lorinc reports.

JOHN LORINC, BYLINE: S. Truett Cathy grew up during the Depression. At eight years old, he set up a stand in his front yard and started selling six bottles of Coke for a quarter. Decades later, he and his brother opened a diner and that center became the building block of a fast food chain that now counts more than 1,800 restaurants in 40 states.

Cathy attributed his material success to a mix of customer service, hard work and Christian values - values which drove him to keep all Chick-fil-A restaurants closed on Sunday. It was a company policy that he steadfastly defended and justified.

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S. TRUETT CATHY: It has proven to my interest financially as well as convenience of permitting our people to have Sunday off where they can forget the business and other interests - devote it to the family as well as to worship if they so choose.

LORINC: Victoria Smith has waited table for 20 years at that original diner in Hapeville, Georgia.

VICTORIA SMITH: He was like a grandfather. I've been - known him all my life. I just - I seen him every Sunday at church. He used to teach Sunday school. He taught the fifth-graders at Jonesboro First Baptist.

LORINC: Cathy's religious beliefs inspired loyalty among many customers including Britt Kugler (ph), who keeps coming back each week.

BRITT KUGLER: He really believed that it was the Sabbath and you shouldn't work on the Sabbath, and he lived it. He didn't just talk it. He lived it - 'cause he could've made billions of dollars more by opening on - over the years - by opening on Sunday. And he chose not to do that.

LORINC: Cathy's son, Dan, is now chairman and president of the chain. A few years ago he criticized gay marriage and defended what he described as the biblical definition of a family. The comments drew protests from gay rights groups and many politicians. But the controversy didn't prevent the company from continuing to grow. Many customers chose to focus, instead, on the fried chicken sandwiches, the waffle fries and the sweet tea.

Last year Chik-fil-A earned five billion dollars and overtook KFC as the biggest-selling fast food chicken chain in the country, drawn in perhaps by the company's well-known ad campaign featuring cows on billboards and commercials urging customers to...

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Eat more chicken.

LORINC: Cathy and Chik-fil-A made a name for themselves by stressing customer service. After each transaction, employees are taught to always say two words - my pleasure. For NPR News, I'm John Lorinc in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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