TERRE HAUTE —
Colorful tents and people hitting volleyballs and tossing bean bags were among the activities surrounding Chick-fil-A’s Terre Haute restaurant Wednesday.
And the business was not even open yet.
It’s all part of the “First 100” event, started in 2003 as a way to celebrate the first stand-alone Chick-fil-A restaurant in Arizona.
The first 100 people 18 years and older who were in line as of 6 a.m. Wednesday were to be selected for 52 coupons, good for a chicken sandwich, medium waffle potato fries and a medium drink valued at more than $300. In all, the First 100 provides more than $30,000 in free food.
The trick is the people have to remain on site until 6 a.m. today.
So participants erected tents and stayed overnight. The restaurant provides breakfast, lunch and dinner to those selected.
Because 150 people were in line Wednesday morning, a lottery was held to select the winners.
In the past 10 years, the business has given away more than $18 million in free food at almost 700 grand openings. An additional $2.5 million is slated to be given away at 91 grand openings this year.
The First 100 features entertainment and games. One game was the Oreo game. A cookie is placed on a person’s forehead and the participant must then get the cookie into their mouth without touching it. Brent Petzoldt of St. Louis, Mo., won that game.
He came to the opening with his wife, Elizabeth, who is 31 weeks pregnant. The couple left at 1:30 a.m. Thursday to arrive in Terre Haute before the 6 a.m. lottery drawing.
“My husband got me into this. He loves Chick-fil-A and did two of [the First 100] before we got married,” one in St. Louis and a second in Wichita, Kan., said Elizabeth, sitting next to their tent, one of many in the restaurant’s parking lot. Terre Haute was her second First 100.
“This is only my fifth time. I got a friend who has been 15 or 20 times,” to a First 100, Brent said, wearing a “I love Chick-fil-A” T-shirt.
Ken Hill, 71, of Macon, Ga., has been to the First 100 openings of new Chick-fil-A stores 22 times in the past year.
“I normally get this far from home, but I was up in northern Indiana and I am on my way back home, so I picked up this [opening in Terre Haute] and will do some touring for about a week, then I will go down to Knoxville, Tennessee and attend that first 100 event also,” Hill said.
Hill, a semi-retired photographer, said he attends the openings “because they are fun. It is a great activity. Usually these openings have about 40 percent college age and about 40 percent retired and 20 percent local [people],” he said.
“You just meet the nicest people and the most interesting people,” Hill said. “It is just absolutely fun. They [Chick-fil-A] feed you all day long and in the evening they bring in a disc jockey to entertain for dancing,” he said.
If he’s not selected in a lottery drawing, he stays with a buddy.
“I don’t always get in. I have gotten into about 12 First 100s. If I don’t get in, I just camp out anyway,” he said. In Terre Haute, he was the 10th person selected.
The company also selects 10 alternates, who can receive the 52 coupons should any of the first 100 leave the site before 6 a.m. today, said Stephanie Lee, Chick-fil-A’s grand opening event planner.
A non-perishable food drive was held at the restaurant to benefit The Lighthouse Mission. A coupon for a chicken sandwich was given to each person who donated at least five food items.
Daniel Bryan, pastor of Cornerstone Bible Church in Terre Haute, arrived at the restaurant at 5:45 a.m. He was among 150 people at the store by 6 a.m. Because there were more than 100 people, a lottery was held to select the winners.
He was the 21st person selected in the lottery drawing.
“It was exciting. The guy beside me was No. 85. The first number that was called was No. 84. The second number was 86. He was sweating a lot, but he was later called as well,” Bryan smiled.
It was his first time coming to such an opening.
Bryan, along with Jim Post of Terre Haute, brought in 54 cans of food from members of the church for the Lighthouse Mission.
“When you are feeding about 450 people a day, and when Chick-fil-A called and asked to partner with us, we of course said yes,” said Timothy Fagg, chief executive officer of the Lighthouse Mission.
“The food that is coming will help feed those 450 people. It is a blessing for us,” Fagg said. “Summer time is tough especially because kids are not in school and they don’t have that free lunch from school. So, we are seeing more and more children coming into the mission with their families to eat. Chick-fil-A is helping us out a great deal,” Fagg said.
Brad and Jan Branam of Terre Haute decided to go to the First 100 as their children were out of town on church activities. The two arrived at the restaurant at 5:30 a.m.
“We said no kids, this is our vacation. We will stay at Chick-fil-A for free and get free food. It is awesome,” Jan Branam said.
Brad was the 20th person selected to get the 52 coupons for chicken meals, while Jan was selected 86th. It was the first time for both of them to go to a First 100 opening.
“We are learning a lot. People who go around to these are called the herd,” Jan Branam said.
“We have been wanting a Chick-fil-A restaurant here for years. We go to Plainfield and eat at that one all the time,” Brad Branam said. “It is a Christian-based company and we support that whole-heartedly. The food is great and the sweet tea is awesome.”
“People here in Terre Haute may not know that they are closed on Sundays. But the company’s slogan from the beginning has been that the day [Sunday] is worth more than the dollar,” Brad said.
In 1982,, Chick-fil-A founder/CEO S. Truett Cathy adopts the corporate purpose: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”
That same year, Chick-fil-A becomes the first restaurant chain to sell chicken nuggets nationally. In 1995, the Richards Group helped Chick-fil-A unveil a new advertising campaign as the cows painted their first billboard asking people to “Eat Mor Chikin.”
Kimberly Cole drove with her father, Ronny Salyer, five hours from Temperance, Mich.
“I didn’t want him driving alone. This is his second First 100 and my first,” Cole said. “I am going on 15 minutes of sleep maybe in the past 28 hours. It is fun and it’s quality time with my dad.”
Salyer, who was among the first 100 selected, said he wanted to attend because “I have a lot of grandkids, more than 10,” he said. “I take them to eat” with the coupons.
The first Indiana Chick-fil-A store opened in 1979 in Mishawaka. There are now 29 restaurant locations with two additional Indiana sites to open this month.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard. firstname.lastname@example.org.