The calendar finally rolled around to long-awaited February 25 last week, bringing Britt McDade of Chick-fil-A Vidalia and his team to Swainsboro with an aptly equipped food truck to feed the masses “The Lord’s Chicken.” The first day of business was a huge success as hundreds of people packed the county lot behind the courthouse to get their fix.
The day began with a grand opening.
Shortly after 10 a.m. on a bustling Friday morning with beautiful weather, Swainsboro-Emanuel County Chamber of Commerce CEO Ken Warnock came forward and welcomed the assembled chamber affiliates, business leaders, community members, Chick-fil-A fanatics, and the Vidalia team alike, telling of the process required to actualize the moment.
“We’ve been working behind the scenes on this for the last several months,” Warnock said. “Britt and the Chick-fil-A Vidalia team were looking for towns to bring this new venture to, and they wanted to know if Swainsboro was interested. We said absolutely, of course. We’d love for them to build a store here someday, but for now, we feel like this is a great addition to our community already. Chick-fil-A got the trucks in about a month ago after some delays. They did their first on-site visit on Thursday in Reidsville, and Swainsboro today is the second. We’re excited for them to be here, and we hope everyone in the community is, too.”
McDade, who owns and operates the Vidalia franchise, then came forward, explaining his connection to Chick-fil-A and the initiative responsible for bringing the famous chicken to Swainsboro.
McDade has been with the brand since high school, and the Lord lit a “pilot light” inside him at that time. He loves Chick-fil-A and what it stands for, he enjoys the connections he gets to make as a representative of the popular chain, and he looks forward to what the future holds for locals.
“I grew up in Fayetteville. I started with Chick-fil-A as a high schooler. This day really represents a lot of dreams and prayers coming true. I was passionate. I say God really lit a pilot light in my gut my junior year of high school. I got to serve the Cathy family as they came to dine in at the Chick-fil-A I worked at. I got to know about the family, got to know the corporate purpose of Chick-fil-A, which is to glorify God and be a faithful steward of all we’re entrusted with,” McDade said Friday morning before the crowd. “I really got passionate about that. I went to school, went into the construction industry for about eight or 10 years, and, through a bunch of divine appointments, God stirring that flame in my gut for Chick-fil-A through the years, I got to come back home to Vidalia in 2013. We’ve had a lot of great success because I have a great team and a great community. Since then, being an entrepreneur and being growth-minded, I’ve been pushing on Chick-fil-A… How do I stay in a small town where we love our situation and still grow as a businessman, still grow with the brand of Chick-fil-A? We’ve been praying about this opportunity and figuring out how to make it work. Chick-fil-A rolled out these food trucks, and we were one of five chosen out of maybe 50 or 60 considered in the southeast. We’re proud to be here today.”
Kenny Griffin, a member of the chamber, then came forward to bless the endeavor as a whole and the food prepared on site.
“Every preacher knows there’s nothing better than chicken on Sunday, but you can’t eat Chick-fil-A chicken on Sunday because they ain’t open. We’re grateful for the ministry of Chick-fil-A and the staff for standing on religious principles,” Griffin said. “Father God, you’ve brought in great people like Britt and his people. Bless us and them in our endeavors. Lead, guide, and direct us so that we may be in good health. We pray for this gathering, this community, the ones who will come and eat and fill their physical bodies with Chick-fil-A. We pray, Heavenly Father, for your Word, which fills our spiritual body. Bless us to be led by your Holy Spirit. In your Son Jesus’s name, and all the saints of God said, ‘Amen.’”
The assembled then gathered for a historic photograph in front of the truck. McDade, along with fellow leaders Sarah Bullard and Marissa Brown, came forward and assisted with the ceremonial snip.
When the deed was done, McDade and crowd let out a celebratory, “Eat more chikin'!”
One more celebratory moment took place: a “first bite.” McDade, Bullard, Brown, Warnock, chamber directors, city dignitaries, and county officials received from the service window the first-ever sandwiches served in town and dug in on the count of three.
Then, some half-hour ahead of schedule, Warnock gave the go-ahead for customers to work their way through the order line.
Kaitlin Hanners of Swainsboro earned the prestige of being the first formally served by the Chick-fil-A team. With Logan Harvey as her cashier, Hanners ordered two sweet teas, a large fry, a 12-count nugget, and a sandwich.
“I was super excited to hear Chick-fil-A was bringing a food truck here. It was sort of a goal of mine to be the first,” she said with a proud smile. “I actually worked at Chick-fil-A Statesboro before, and I love everything about it—the food, the leadership, the company’s principles.”
County commission chairman Jim Sherrod also expressed his level of pride to have Chick-fil-A in Swainsboro now. With his “first bite” sandwich down to the all but remnants, he pointed at it and said, “This... This right here is good stuff.” He continued, making a light-hearted joke, “This singlehandedly makes being a county commissioner worth it.”
Chris Pinard of Swainsboro was on hand Friday as well and shared in the excitement. McDade met Pinard at the grand opening and was surprised to learn he was in the midst of a champion auctioneer. The leader of Chick-fil-A Vidalia, having an affinity for auction chants, asked Pinard during a fellowshipping moment to call something.
“I can’t do it on the spot. I have to be in the moment,” Pinard said with a chuckle. “Plus, I already got my food so had I known, we maybe could’ve worked something out. Anything for Chick-fil-A, right?”
The line grew immensely from some 50 people at 10:30 onward. Looking back, McDade says he couldn’t be happier with the turnout.
“I think we had around 1,000 total transactions. That’s awesome for us,” McDade said in a Tuesday text to The Chronicle. “We received such a warm welcome from Swainsboro on Friday.”
Continued support will be vital in determining future developments for Chick-fil-A locally.
For now, the plan is to return to Swainsboro on March 11. Hours, like this past Friday, will be from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. The official menu announced the week of the truck’s debut includes: the original Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, 6- or 12-count nuggets, the grilled cool wrap, medium or large fries, the chocolate chunk cookie, fudge brownies, waffle potato chips, bottled Chick-fil-A sweet tea and lemonade, bottled water, bottled Diet Coke, and bottled Sprite.
If you haven’t visited yet but plan to the next time McDade and crew are in Swainsboro, here’s what you need to know:
Patrons should use the public parking lot behind the courthouse where Schwabe Motor Company once was. A section of the lot will be roped off for the queue line. Once you’ve arrived at one of the two cashiers, you’ll place your order and receive your drinks, then proceed to the condiments section, where a Chick-fil-A worker will be standing ready to walk over your freshly-prepared order once it’s finished. The entire process, in true keeping with the Chick-fil-A people know and love, is simple, fast, and organized.
All in all, McDade and the chamber alike are ecstatic about "Chick-fil-A Swainsboro’s” first day in business.
“The mothership is Chick-fil-A Vidalia but today and going forward, we are Chick-fil-A Swainsboro,” McDade said. “We wish we could be here every day, six days a week. That’s the goal. My hope is if we can’t build a store here, we can at least have enough trucks here to feed everyone. I’ve had relationships in Swainsboro, but it’s an extension of our Vidalia community. We’re looking forward to growing in this community. We’re grateful to be here, and we really look forward to serving you and your families what I think is the best chicken in the USA. Even more than that, we look forward to working with you, becoming a great community partner. I don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver. Our heart is to be in Swainsboro as often as we can and, when we’re here, to blow it up, make a bright spot in the area, and hopefully ‘eat more chikin.’”