About 100 Long Islanders camped outside of the new Chick-fil-A in Port Jefferson Station to be among the first on line Wednesday when the eatery opened its first location on Long Island.
More than a dozen tents filled the parking lot Tuesday night outside the fast-food chicken chain’s new venue on Nesconset Highway, as Chick-fil-A fanatics shared stories while a DJ blasted music. Although the Atlanta-based company’s CEO has drawn criticism from LGBT advocates for reportedly donating funds to hate groups opposed to same-sex marriage, no protesters crashed the party.
“It’s like Christmas morning,” said Anthony Viscuso, a 35-year-old insurance agent who was first on line for the grand opening at 6 a.m. Wednesday. “I’ve never camped out in my life, but for Chick-fil-A? If the hurricane was coming, I’d be here.”
Once the big moment came, it sounded like New Year’s Eve with workers banging on pots and pans, ringing cowbells and lots of cheering. The first 100 customers scored a year’s supply of Chil-fil-A—52 certificates for free meals. Campers were also treated to free breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus a few snacks in between, throughout Tuesday, a company spokesman said.
Viscuso bought camping gear and arrived at 5 a.m. Tuesday to secure his place in line, which officially began forming 24 hours prior to the grand opening. About 20 others joined him over the next hour. The mood was mellow during the day, he said, but a rush of campers arrived Tuesday evening as anticipation mounted for the debut.
Among the first 10 on line was a couple from Coram who recalled having their first date at a Chick-fil-A in Florida, where they met while attending college. They described the restaurant’s opening as a “miracle.”
“We never did anything like this, but for Chick-fil-A, we made the exception,” said Catherine Gretschel, a 26-year-old law school graduate who camped out with her boyfriend, Brian Blomberg, 25, a professional golfer.
Casey Durham, a Chick-fil-A company representative who’s worked 30 store openings nationwide, said campsites are the norm before a grand opening. Asked if there would be lines as bad as the six-hour wait this reporter endured upon the grand opening of LI’s first Sonic in North Babylon four years ago, Durham said customers will be in and out in 15 minutes.
“We’re planning for an extremely busy day,” he said.
Viscuso, the first customer—who lives around the block and used to tailor roadtrips to ensure he passed a Chick-fil-A—said he ordered a chicken biscuit meal, two chicken biscuits, a spicy chicken biscuit, biscuits and gravy, a chicken burrito and a chicken breast on the side.
He called it “love at first bite.”
David Kilmnick, CEO of the nonprofit Long Island LGBT Service Network, said that since the company appears to have ceased donating money to anti-gay marriage groups, he and his advocates have ” bigger chicken to fry.”
“We’re going to keep a close eye on it to make sure the company is going to keep their word,” he said. “We certainly are not going to let them off the hook.”
The restaurant, which features a double drive-thru, is scheduled to be open 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday.