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Utah Chick-fil-A supporters turn out for 'Appreciation Day'

Published August 1, 2012 9:24 pm

Debate • Restaurants nationally report uptick in business amid gay-marriage controversy.
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Chick-fil-A customers in Utah crowded the chicken chain's restaurants Wednesday to show their support for the company after its president, Dan Cathy, took a public position against same-sex marriage.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, declared Wednesday "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" in response to criticism of Cathy's comments last month.

As a result, Chick-fil-A restaurants across America were reporting an increase in traffic Wednesday, including some where lines were seen outside restaurants.

In Utah, representatives at many of the state's 15 Chick-fil-A restaurants said they had done smashing business thanks to Huckabee's declaration.

Ryan Dennis, the owner of a Chick-fil-A in Riverdale, said his customer count was way up Wednesday.

"It's been crazy. I've had lines of about 200 people all day," he said. "This has been the busiest day I've ever had in 14 years."

"We have had a massive increase in business," said Kendall Smith, manager of the Chick-fil-A at the City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City. He said business was up at least 35 percent Wednesday, which he attributed strictly to "Appreciation Day."

Becky Pickle, the owner of a Chick-fil-A in South Jordan, said there was a "significant" increase in customers. "Yes, absolutely. I would call it abnormal for this day."

In North Carolina, a spokeswoman for the Rev. Billy Graham said the 93-year-old evangelist ate a Chick-fil-A lunch, including a chicken sandwich and waffle fries, at his home.

Chick-fil-A President Cathy told the Baptist Press last month that the Atlanta-based company was "guilty as charged" for backing "the biblical definition of a family." Gay rights groups and others answered with calls for boycotts. This Friday, opponents of Cathy's stance have planned "Kiss Mor Chiks," asking people of the same sex to show up at Chick-fil-A locations and kiss each other.

Cathy's comments have since led to controversial actions on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate, including the mayors of Boston and Chicago stating they would use their powers to stop new Chick-fil-A restaurants from opening in their cities. Supporters of the chain have said the mayors' actions were akin to stifling First Amendment speech. Even as customers filed into Chick-fil-A outlets Wednesday, some store owners said the controversy had so far has not hurt sales.

"I've had negative comments. But whether it's affected our traffic, it's hard to say. I haven't had major decreases in sales," Dennis said.

Chick-fil-A posted $4.1 billion in sales last year, most of it below the Mason-Dixon Line. Just 14 of its restaurants are in the six states and the District of Columbia where gay marriage is legal.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

vince@sltrib.com