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Column: Dan Cathy: Westside Chick-fil-A ‘a real clarion call for other businesses’

By Maria Saporta

As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on February 22, 2019

When Dan Cathy first began challenging the Atlanta business community to invest in Atlanta’s Westside, businessman Arthur Blank suggested to the CEO of Chick-fil-A Inc. that he should open a restaurant in the community.

Chick-fil-A opened its restaurant on Martin Luther King Dr. on Jan. 18, 2018, across the street from the historic, but vacant, Paschal’s Motor Hotel and Restaurant.

On Feb. 19, Cathy dedicated the H.J. Russell Community Room that is part of the restaurant in memory of the legendary builder who was a fixture in the Atlanta business community and one of the leading African-American businessmen in Georgia.

Chick-fil-A Westside

Quincey Springs talks at the dedication of the H.J. Russell Community Room as Dan Cathy and members of the Russell family listen (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The Chick-fil-A restaurant now has been open for more than a year, so it was an opportunity for Cathy to reflect on the decision of opening the store in a community that has been struggling for years.

“This doesn’t fit any of our demographic models,” Cathy acknowledged. “We have a fine-tuned way of measuring population, income levels, employment. It’s a real sophisticated method we have. It didn’t fit any of it. It was way off.”

Cathy, however, got his executive team to agree to build the store near the corner where MLK meets Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard.

“This is probably the most courageous step we have made,” Cathy said. “It’s been a good business decision. But it’s probably one of the most challenging restaurants that we have.”

Most of the employees come from the community, and some have never had a regular job or an opportunity to interface with the public.

“But it’s a profitable business, and we have an outstanding operator,” Cathy said. “It is a profitable business. It should be a real clarion call for other businesses: Don’t discard opportunities on the Westside.”

Quincey Springs IV, the owner and operator of the Westside’s Chick-fil A, said there have been challenges, but it’s been worth it.

“The very reason that it didn’t fit the model is why it belongs here,” Springs said. “Chick-fil-A has served in this community for years. Why not start in the birthplace of the company?”

Springs added the restaurant has seen growth in the beginning of its second year, and that the restaurant is stabilizing thanks to “some great team members we have hired along the way.”

Asked if Chick-fil-A may open other stores in communities that don’t fit its economic model, Springs said, “Courageous steps follow courageous steps.”

Cathy said the restaurant is performing well, operating slightly less than the mid-level of other Chick-fil-A stores.

“Not everything is dollars and cents,” Cathy said. “This is the kind of project that is good financially, but it’s really good in nurturing the soul of our operation. It’s our opportunity as business people to be bridge builders.”

Westside Future Fund board

Seven new Atlanta leaders are joining the board of the Westside Future Fund.

“I am grateful these talented Atlanta leaders have chosen to serve on the Westside Future Fund Board of Directors,” Richard Dugas, Jr., chair of the Westside Future Fund, said in a statement. “They each have dedicated their lives to advancing their respective organizations, whether in business or community service, and I have no doubt that they will bring high energy and expertise to help tackle the long-standing challenges on the Westside.”

The new board members include:

Rev. Kenneth Alexanderco-pastor of the historic Antioch Baptist Church North in Atlanta, and executive director of Antioch Urban Ministries;

John Gamble; chief financial officer of Equifax;

Jim Grien, president and CEO of TM Capital Corp. since 2008 and a trustee of the Marcus Foundation;

Shawntel R. Hebert: a partner at Taylor English Duma LLC in Atlanta:

Derrick Jordan: former director of the city of Atlanta’s Office of Housing, he now helps the National Church Residences focus building and rehabilitating affordable housing;

Wonya Lucas: president and CEO of Public Broadcasting Atlanta; and

A.J. Robinson: president and CEO of Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District.

The addition of these new members significantly expands the size of the Fund’s board to 23 members.

“We are thrilled to add these impressive individuals to our board,” said John Ahmann, WFF’s president and CEO. “We have an ambitious mission and the breadth of their leadership experience combined with their deep commitment to serving the community will make our organization and Atlanta’s historic Westside even stronger.”

Piedmont Park Conservancy board

Ten new people are joining the board of the Piedmont Park Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that works with the city of Atlanta to maintain and enhance Piedmont Park.

The Conservancy was founded in 1989, and it helps raise more than $3 million for the park. It also manages 90 percent of the overall maintenance and security of the park.

Those new board members are:

  • Lee Echols, vice president of marketing and communications for Northside Hospital;
  • Makara Rumley, founder and CEO of Hummingbird;
  • Patrick Baldwin, a senior associate of Jones Day;
  • Erin Yabroudy, an associate of Harry Norman Realtors;
  • Herman Howard, founding partner and director of planning and urban design for SHAPE;
  • Timothy Montz, vice president of business operations for Cox Communications,
  • Adriana Varela, an attorney with Fragomen’s;
  • Alex Wan, executive director of Horizons Atlanta;
  • John Wilson, senior vice president of Jamestown; and
  • Joni Winston, a community philanthropist and wellness instructor.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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