Chick-fil-A has gone from a cult favorite to a dominating presence on the fast food scene. The chicken chain now employs 120,000 people in 2,300 restaurants across 47 states, including New York. It first opened its doors to New Yorkers in October 2015, at the corner of 6th Avenue and 37th street in midtown Manhattan.
This particular location is one of the busiest in the nation, completing up to 3,500 transactions on some days.
To find out what it's actually like to work there, I spent a day with assistant director Monique Mendoza, who let me shadow her during her 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday shift.
Here are the five most surprising things I learned on the job.
Chick-fil-A receives about 60,000 franchise inquiries per year, the company tells CNBC Make It, and, of that batch, only 75 to 80 are selected. That's an acceptance rate of less than 1 percent.
The owner and operator of this location, Oscar Fittipaldi, ran a Philadelphia-based Chick-fil-A for five years before being selected to open the first Manhattan-based franchise. He's no longer affiliated with the Philly location, as Chick-fil-A prohibits most franchisees from opening multiple restaurants.
"I don't have a specific formula [for] why people are selected to become franchisees," says Fittipaldi, who spent 21 years as a merchant marine and ship captain before changing careers. "But one of the things that I would look [for] typically is: character, chemistry and competency. We need to make sure that the Chick-fil-A franchisees, when they come to the organization, they have a perfect chemistry with our brand.
"We're very unique in what we do, so the selection process is quite challenging for everyone."
Any time a customer says, "Thank you," employees are trained to say, "My pleasure." The more mannerly response is meant to add an extra level of care and make the transaction seem more personal.
Mendoza, who has been saying "my pleasure" for the past seven years, says that it's ingrained in her vocabulary now and has become her go-to response even outside of work.
The waffle fries are actually the main attraction. Preparation, I learned, is simple: We throw them into a basket, fry them in canola oil for two minutes, shake the basket out to drain the oil and add sea salt.
Mendoza estimates that, each day, their restaurant goes through 30 to 40 cases, each of which contains six bags of fries.
Nearly everything on the Chick-fil-A menu is made from scratch each day starting with the biscuits. The "biscuit master" at this location, JaQuill, makes fresh batches from 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
The chicken is breaded to order by hand, the lemonade is squeezed fresh from Sunkist lemons and the salads are made from fruits and vegetables delivered to the restaurant as many as six times per week.
I didn't expect the work day to be easy by any means, but I didn't expect it to be so exhausting. By 10:30 a.m., after rolling biscuit dough, frying chicken and assembling sandwiches, I was starting to peter out — and the lunch rush hadn't even started.
Since I commuted from Manhattan, I didn't have to be up as early as most of the employees working the 6 a.m. shift, either. Mendoza, who commutes into the city from Weehawken, New Jersey, wakes up around 4 a.m. every day.
The early start time does mean an early finish time, which is a perk, says Mendoza. After work ends at 3 p.m., "I will be enjoying New York City," she tells me. "Exploring the city is my favorite thing."
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