Truett Cathy, 88, is the founder of Chick-fil-A and was at Monday's Gwinnett Braves game honoring his 25,000th scholarship winner and he even threw out the first pitch.
In this installment of "Getting to Know..." staff writer Ben Beitzel talks with Cathy about the best place to sleep during Falcons games, if he will let people buy chicken sandwiches on Sunday, changing the name of the Peach Bowl and what he thinks of his cow mascots.
BB: Why choose Gwinnett Stadium as the place to honor your scholarship winner?
TC: Well, I was invited, that is the first reason. I like to go a lot of places, but I don't go unless I am invited. I am glad to be here celebrating the recipient of the 25,000th scholarship winner. We were delighted she was here. I am going out to (Jamie Dyche's home) in Louisiana (next), so they are keeping me on the move.
BB: You stay busy.
TC: Yes. I say, at 88, any day you can get up and put your shoes on is a good day. I stay busy and I stay out of trouble.
BB: Does Chick-fil-A make all its employees be that friendly?
TC: Well, we teach the golden rule. Treat your customers like you like to be treated when you go out to eat. You like to be greeted with smiling faces. Demonstrate a serving spirit and if they happen to say thank you, we say, 'My pleasure.' You don't hear that kind of language in fast food. For that reason we can compete with our highest competitors. This scholarship program is one thing we do that we attract the kind of people that might be going to college and get them started. It's a good investment.
BB: From your start in Hapeville to now are you ever surprised that your concept caught on?
TC: We started the first one and then after I had two, I realized I had one too many. But the Lord took care of that, one burnt down to the ground, but from that came Chick-fil-A. It's been very rewarding for me. I enjoy what I am doing. I find that when you enjoy what you are doing, the success is not the money you bring in. You don't use your cash register as your scoreboard.
BB: Chick-fil-A has spent the past years sponsoring sports, from college to pro, what is your favorite sport?
TC: Well, I have season tickets to the (Falcons). Football is more interesting to me than baseball. But I was never able to play sports. I had to work all the time. I was brought up in poverty. There is a lot to learn when you are brought up in poverty.
BB: So the Falcons? You really are an Atlanta guy.
TC: I wouldn't tell you any different (laughs). I like winners you know. I have other teams I enjoy and I know a lot of the people. But it is very relaxing to me to sit in my chair and watch a professional football game and snooze every now and then. I have the season tickets, but I give them away because I enjoy sitting in that chair and taking that Sunday afternoon snooze.
BB: Plenty of people would love some Chick-fil-A watching a game on Sunday. Any chance you open it up?
TC: Someone asked me, why don't you open on Sunday? Twenty percent of the sales are generated on Sunday. I say, 'Well it's the best business decision I have ever made.' He said, 'How do you figure that,' I said, 'Well, No. 1 it honors the Lord and it attracts the caliber of people that take Sunday off.' Whether they worship or not. It's a family day and that is important. Some of our operators, the men, their wives complain that the food business you have to work too hard and too long. But Sunday is a family day.
BB: Was there a lot of anger about you changing the name of the Peach Bowl? You're from here, was the response negative?
TC: People complained about it, changing it from the Peach Bowl. But I think people have gotten used to it and are saying the Chick-fil-A bowl.
BB: I guess Chick-fil-A is an Atlanta company.
BB: I see your cows at every sporting event I go to. Why do people seem to embrace them?
TC: Oh, we love the cows. We had cow appreciation day a few weeks ago. It's a fun thing. The cows are unusual. The art department and our staff creates good advertising. People tell me, 'We look forward to the next billboard.' I guess we'll keep doing it. It's gaining momentum I think.
BB: How much Chick-fil-A do you eat? What's Truett Cathy's order?
TC: I have to check my competitors every now and then, and when you order fried chicken you have more left over than when you started. You have bones and skin. I eat my share of Chick-fil-A.
BB: So just the chicken sandwich.
TC: Just the regular chicken sandwich on the toasted butter bun with a dill pickle chip. I think it's easy to eat. Taking the bone out and putting it on the sandwich is a simple idea and I was able to do it.