When they remodeled White Oaks Mall in the early 90s to include a food court, an egregious offense was perpetrated on the people of Springfield, the ramifications of which are still being felt to this day. I speak of course of the elimination from our locality of the premiere fast food restaurant this country has produced: Chick-fil-A. This is my tribute, a love song if you will, to this dearly missed franchise.
For the true believer, there is no equal to the Chick-fil-A experience. Connoisseurs only differ as to their preference for the nuggets or the original chicken sandwich (the grilled chicken sandwich does not qualify and was meant only to appease those egotistical waifs who value their trim waistlines over all else.) The mixture of spices and the juicy tenderness of the chicken surpasses even that that can be found in the world’s finest bistros. Its ambrosial savoriness knows no equal.
How else is Chick-fil-A great? Their corporate fiat to remain closed on Sundays has taught temperance to a society overtaken by gluttony and selfishness. Their refusal to dabble in the ways of Angus beef demonstrates a single-minded approach to excellence, a quality often missing in a world driven only by profit.
As is often the case in these situations, I didn’t realize what I had until it was gone. In high school, a good friend rose to the ranks of assistant manager of Chick-fil-A and was granted the honor of closing the store on occasion. Here, presented to me by some otherworldly grace, was my Charlie in the Chocolate Factory opportunity. Yet I let it pass without attempting to discover the secrets of the franchise. Ah, the folly of youth.
A couple of years after returning to Springfield from college - wiser, more worldly - the opportunity to atone for my youthful indiscretions was short-lived as Chick-fil-A lowered its gate for the final time.
But fortune would again smile on me many years later when I started dating the woman who would become my wife. She was working in retail management at St. Claire Square in Fairview Heights, IL, a mall that is blessed to this day with a Chick-fil-A. I was a frequent visitor to their food court, grateful to again have access to the food that remained my mania. It was a glorious relationship, one that sadly ended when I gave the woman who reunited me with my true love a ring, and she moved to Chick-fil-A -less Springfield to become my wife.
St. Claire Square was also the scene of an event that left me questioning the egalitarian nature of man. One day, as I stood at the counter awaiting my usual order, a person exhibited the crudest, most base act of culinary malfeasance I have ever witnessed by ordering a chicken sandwich from the Hardee’s stand that was located right next to the venerable Chick-fil-A site. “Philistine! Get thee to a church and repent!”
In 2003, during a debate on AM Springfield, Sam Madonia asked the two mayoral candidates to name one business that they would strive to bring back to Springfield if elected; Tony Libri immediately spoke lovingly of Chick-fil-A. At that point, Libri could have come out for a double digit tax increase, mandatory state militia service, and prohibition - he still would have had my vote. The glow that emanated from his candidacy was only diminished when Tim Davlin seconded his adoration for the tastiest bird known to man, leaving the two in a virtual dead heat leading up to the general election.
Mayor Davlin has not come through on what I perceived as a promise to return Chick-fil-A to Springfield, devoting his time instead to such trivial matters as libraries and lawsuits.
On occasion, I still visit the mecca of my youth. My in-laws spend winters in Florida, a land rich in Chick-fil-A’s. A brother in Indianapolis lives just minutes from a freestanding outlet. But for the time being, my children will be forced to endure an existence without it. And for that, we are all the lesser.