22 Aug 2014
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Library Patrons Go Behind-the-Scenes at Chick-fil-A

Lansdale Library's "Explore Your Town" program showed interested children and parents what goes into daily preparation at the fast food chicken sandwich restaurant at Montgomery Mall

In one day, will go through 600 chicken patties, freshly squeeze four cases of lemons for its lemonade and serve about 600 people.

Twelve youths and five adults got a behind-the-scenes look at Chick-fil-A at the Montgomery Mall Thursday morning, led by owner and operator Mike Endicott of Hamilton, NJ. It was all part of 's "Explore Your Town" program.

Before the tour, Endicott gave a bit of background on the company. 

Chick-fil-A was started by Truett Cathy in 1967. 

"When he was eight years old," Endicott said, "what he did to help his parents make money during the Depression was he got a red wagon and he would buy six packs of Coca-Cola. He would sell the six packs for a nickel a piece. He would take the nickel bac and help his mom, who ran a boarding home."

Endicott said the Cathys would have 10 to 12 people staying at a time in the boarding home.

"His mom was famous for her food," he said.

In 1946, Cathy started a restaurant - "no bigger than this restaurant," Endicott said, pointing at a mall Food Court restaurant location - called The Dwarf Grill. It would be renamed later as The Dwarf House.

"He opened across from a Ford plant. He built a great relationship with Ford," Endicott said. "He developed such a good relatioship, he would keep the doors open and lights on. When he would hear them coming in, he would get up and cook them food."

Endicott said the Ford plant closed on Sundays, so Cathy closed his Dwarf Grill on Sundays.

Cathy invented the first chicken sandwich, Endicott said. Cathy would cook his chicken in under five minutes. Then, he realized if you take the bone out, the chicken cooked faster and stayed juicier.

Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A in 1967 at Atlanta's Greenbriar Shopping Center.

"Thre are more than 1,640 Chick-fil-A's in 49 states," Endicott said. "They look to open 1,000 to 1,200 more in the next 10 years."

"That's a lot of Chick-fil-A's!" exclaimed six-year-old Kelly Williamson, a student at Mater Dei Catholic School in Lansdale.

Endicott mentioned some brief facts about Chick-fil-A, like the restaurant goes through four cases of lemons a day - about 20 cases a week - and slice and squeeze lemons every day for its lemonade.

He also said Cathy owns the original Batmobile, as well as other luxury cars from Deussingbergs to modern-day vehicles.

Cathy also founded the Winshape Homes program, a philanthropic area of the company that has established 12 foster homes in the South, and the Winshape Camps.

Endicott then had the children and reluctant adults don Chick-fil-A hats before embarking on a tour of the back kitchen.

First, an employee showed the children the proper way to wash and sanitize their hands.

"Our employees wash their hands about 10 to 12 times a day. It's real important for us for food safety," Endicott said. "Employees handle food products and cut lemons and bread and batter chickens."

He said employees a trained on food safety procedures.

"We also ask them to double wash their hands, so they never miss a handwashing," he said.

In the back kitchen, employee Lauren Des Londe showed off the brand-name products used in the Chick-fil-A menu: Dasani water, Saltines, French's mustard, Driscoll's strawberries, Del Monte mandarin oranges, Oreos and Hershey's chocolate syrup for milkshakes, and Sargento and Land O' Lakes cheeses.

The lemonade is fresh squeezed everyday by an automatic juicer. There are three ingredients in the lemonade: fresh lemons, sugar and water.

Des Londe then showed how chicken patties are battered, breaded and cooked every day.

An employee changes gloves after each battering and breading of patties, Endicott said.

Gloves are then changed again between moving the patties from the prep area to the pressure cooker.

"We can cook 24 patties at a time," said Des Londe.

Patties are placed in the pressure cooker basket, dipped into the oil, raised up to make sure they don't stick to the basket and then cooked for four minutes and 20 seconds.

Chicken is then placed in another area where they are ready to be eaten by customers. All chicken is placed on a timer.

"We don't hold chicken past 20 minutes," Des Londe said.

Patties are also thawed out for 24 hours in a refrigerator.

"We project our product for two days out," Des Londe said. "On Thursday, we make sure to have enough for Friday and Saturday."

The best seller at Chick-fil-A in the mall are the chicken nuggets.

"If seven people come up, not all are going to eat a main dish," said manager John Camiola. "We have an obligation to serve 600 to 700 people a day."

Camiola said the company's record speaks for itself.

"I think the reason it is what it is is because we haven't gone public," he said.

He said the food product is unique for the segment of its industry.

"Nobody sells this type of chicken," he said.

Lansdale Library director Tom Meyer came up with the library's "Explore Your Town" theme two years ago. Past events included visiting Lansdale's Wastewater Treatment Plant, Peter Wentz Farmstead and The Pearl S. Buck House.

"This year, I thought, 'What do I remember as a kid?' and I remember going to McDonald's and seeing what they do there," Meyer said.

He said he called Chick-fil-A and they were happy to oblige. Meyer said the Montgomeryville fast food restaurant has worked with the library on different things, such as a Reading Night at the mall and this Saturday's Clean and Green Extravaganza.

"I look at the age groups and think what can we get for teens? Most teens' first job is in fast food. We can introduce them early on that this is what you could do for work," Meyer said.

Meyer learned something at the event: He didn't know the employees change gloves so much in preparing food.

"I didn't know they used all brand names either," he said. "I wasn't aware of all the high quality ingredients."

Christina Williamson, 7, a Lansdale resident and student at Mater Dei, said she learned that employees wash their hands twice to make sure chicken doesn't get contaminated.

"I learned that lemons, sugar and water are in the lemonade," Kelly Williamson said. "My favorite part was the food!"

Dominic Verzilli, 7, also a student at Mater Dei, said chicken salad sandwiches are his favorite.

Christina said Chick-fil-A is her favorite chicken restaurant.

"I would do this everyday if I could," she said.

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