Some people really, really like Chick-fil-A. Like Richard Coley.
He’s number 39 in line at the recently renovated and soon-to-reopen Chick-fil-A in Temple Terrace, which will officially open at 6 a.m. Thursday and give out coupons to the first 100 people in line worth a year of free food.
But this is not Coley’s first rodeo.
“This is not vanity or conceit,” he said. “But this is my 110th opening of a Chick-fil-A, in 26 states from California to the East Coast.” (Chick-fil-A officials confirm his bona fides. He’s a regular cross-country store opener.) His first was in 2005 in Clearwater.
Coley, 61, lives in St. Petersburg, but has made his retirement into a Chick-fil-A pilgrimage. He’s endured temperatures as low as 3 degrees in Arizona in the winter to 109 degrees in Texas in August. He has a camping system down pat. If he’s flying to an overnight opening, he takes a sleeping bag and small camping kit. If he drives, he can pack a small tent and maybe an air mattress.
His furthest trip was 2,900 miles because his flight to a new Boise, Idaho, Chick-fil-A routed him through San Francisco.
“I’m driven by my love for Chick-fil-A, the food, but also the caliber of people who work for Chick-fil-A from the counter personnel to the kitchen staff to the CEO and board members.”
He brushes off the political controversy around Chick-fil-A, and comments from the company’s CEO that they favor traditional marriage. “He does believe in traditional marriage, but he’s by no means a gay basher,” Coley said. “Just like I’m not a gay basher.”
As for just what about Chick-fil-A he does love. “Everything on the menu,” though he’s partial to the original chicken sandwich, fried or grilled. His praises of Chick-fil-A, and his regular camping out, have made media accounts from Hollywood to Nashville to Bradenton. His Facebook photo is a Halloween pumpkin, carved with the Chick-fil-A logo.
By 6:30 this morning, at least 60 other people lined up on the pavement outside the soon-to-open location in Temple Terrace. One caveat: You must live within about 20 miles of the location at 5302 E. Fowler Ave. to get the free food. The former drive-thru only location was recently taken down and rebuilt as a free-standing restaurant. For those needing a break, there are some loopholes in the giveaway, such as spaces for 10 alternates, and Chick-fil-A is providing restroom access, security and games — plus free food.
Today’s campout is also special for Coley. His 86-year-old mother, Peggy, is camping with him. She’s only done 40 Chick-fil-A grand opening campouts -- so far.